Sundance Day 1- Looking back and looking ahead.

In my final recap of the last year’s Sundance Film Festival, I mentioned that some of bigger Park City acquisitions appeared to me to be a bit overpriced, considering that I found their commercial prospects a bit murky. Sure enough, a recent rundown of the box office results for these films shows that a good percentage of them did not do nearly as well as hoped. As with all such articles we have to realize that many of the acquisition costs are guesstimates or simply false leaks. Plus VOD numbers are never released by the studios, and with more and more films being released on VOD day and date, those unreleased numbers might make a big difference for the bottom line. Still, looking over the list, Cedar Rapids, The Guard, Win Win, Buck, Senna, Beats Rhymes and Life, Hobo With a Shotgun and Margin Call did well, but just about all the other acquisitions were at least mild disappointments. Further, though many films did quite well relative to the acquisition cost, only one acquisition broke $10 million, and that film brought in a $24 million gross only after $21 million was spent on acquisition and P&A costs. Long story short, it wasn¹t a disastrous year, but after all the money spent on acquisitions with only so-so results, I worried that the overspending in 2011 would lead to diminished distributor appetites in 201. And indeed some are saying that it isn¹t likely that Park City won¹t be quite the boomtown it was last year.

Commercial concerns aside, there are of course quite a few films that people are excited about, and there are always going to be surprises. Most of the films haven’t been seen by many to this point (and I have only seen 5 or 6), so predicting what will generate buzz is a bit of a guessing game, but here are some of the films in Park City that I am most excited about, for various reasons:

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Directed by Benh Zeitlin and winner of the Eastern Effects Rooftop Films Equipment Grant, this is probably the film I am personally most excited about. Benh and his Court 13 crew have been VERY secretive about the film to this point, and even though we gave it a grant we haven¹t seen a single scene of the film yet. They haven’t released any scenes or trailers, so all that the world has seen to this point is a couple of stills, and a few of us have been lucky to read a draft of  the script (which is magical in every sense of the word). Benh’s two short films Egg and Glory at Sea have displayed just how much these talented young filmmakers can achieve with even limited resources. The premiere is tomorrow, and we’ll write more about it after the screening.

2. 5 Broken Cameras. In my opinion, Emad Burnat’s strikingly personal documentary was the most powerful doc at IDFA. The footage is horrifying at points, and this film is sure to stoke controversy as American audiences see it for the first time.

3. West of Memphis. The story of the West Memphis Three has already spawned three extraordinarily successful documentaries‹Paradise Lost 1, 2, and 3. West of Memphis, produced by Peter Jackson, makes four films about the falsely accused teens, and there has been some controversy surrounding the film as a result of battles between the rival films over exclusive interview agreements. But all of the Paradise Lost films have been well received and those who have seen West of Memphis have said that it is a worthy additional entry.

4. We Are Legion. I don’t know a lot about this film, but hardly a day passes without some new controversy come along relating to the exploits of anonymous. I am curious to see if this film sheds new light on the mysterious collective.

5. Indie Game the Movie. Rooftop showed a clip from Indie Game back in 2011, and since the I have been eager to see how this film would turn out. By all accounts it is much more interesting than one might first assume.

6. Simon Killer. Antonio Campos’ debut feature After School shocked audiences (including me) back in 2008, and I have been eager to see what he would do next. Produced by Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and edited by Zac Stuart-Pontier (MMMM, Catfish, Opus Jazz), the crew has a great pedigree, and I am sure the film will offer some intense surprises.

7. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Rooftop showed a short doc by director Terence Nance in 2010, and though this film seems a bit off the beaten path, a number of people who have seen it have mentioned to me how smart and original it is. I am excted to see it, and I hope audiences don¹t overlook it.

8. Kid Thing. The Zellner Brothers have been showing films at Sundance for as long as I have been coming here, and their latest looks a bit off-kilter and Austin-y like all their work, but with some added twists and a reportedly excellent performance by their child lead.

9. China Heavyweight. Yung Chang¹s last doc, Up The Yangtze, is without a doubt one of my favorite documentaries of all time. It’s hard to imagine that his latest won’t be something special.

10. Sleepwalk With Me. If you subscribe to the Moth or This American Life podcasts, you are undoubtedly very familiar with the amazing storytelling talent of Mike Berbiglia. His acclaimed one man show Sleepwalk With Me has been adapted for the screen (with Ira Glass producing), and it will be interesting to see how his hilarious and poignant stories translate.

11. Teddy Bear. Mads Matthiesen¹s short film Dennis features a uniquely captivating performance by its mucle-bound lead Kim Kold, and when I first saw it years ago the first thought I had was, ³I want to spend more time with this character.² Now I get the chance.

12. Your Sister’s Sister. Lynn Shelton’s last two films (Humpday and My Effortless Briliance) have played at Rooftop and have established her as an accomplished actor’s director. Working with a talented and cast (Mark Duplass, Mike Berbiglia, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt), this film may be the movie that takes Lynn’s career to the next level.

13. Valley of Saints. Working with Yoni Brook, Musa Syeed produced A Son’s Sacrifice and co-directed A Bronx Princess, two fantastic docs that screened with Rooftop. Now he takes over the director’s role for Valley of Saints and Yoni mans the camera for this lush drama shot in Kashmir.