As the madness winds down at tonight’s awards ceremony, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival will have been chewed over in a thousand conversations. Yet each topic has an expiration date. Whether it be DIY’s direction, breakout filmmakers, or undiscovered gems, Sundance changes the chatter every year. In that spirit, here are my four takeaways from the 2010 Festival (valid until January 2011, of course).
1. Vet filmmakers stretched their canvases, and scored.
Veteran filmmakers proved that with more ambition, and sometimes more money, they can still remain true to their style. Lisa Cholodenko, with a bigger canvas and bigger cast, kept close to her signature and delivered what many believe is her best film in The Kids Are All Right. The same can be said for Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the Duplass Brothers, who added several zeros to their usual budget for Cyrus.
David Michôd stepped up from his 2007 short, Crossbow, with his first feature, Animal Kingdom, which could reinvigorate the crime genre. And in another vein, Debra Granik, staying within or perhaps below the budget level of 2004’s Down to the Bone, broke out with an understated, taunt drama that works as a thriller—Winter’s Bone. Granik proved it’s not about money, which could inspire the next projects from NEXT filmmakers.
2. Docs spark dialogue, but perspective is everything.
Restrepo and I’m Pat Tillman‘s similarities stop at frame one. The two docs, both galvanized by war deaths, framed their theme in the same moment yet captured entirely different ripple effects. The effect PFC Juan Restrepo’s death had on the soldiers and filmmakers forced a view of the Afghan war from a front-line perspective. Tillman’s death and exploitation reverses it by bringing the view back home, offering a perspective of war from Tillman’s angry family.
One can imagine the families of both slain men viewing each others films. Will Tillman’s family feel a measure of comfort to see the similar situations their son patrolled? Or will it fuel a different kind of rancor? Will Restrepo’s family find some solace in the fact there could be more to learn about their son’s death? Or will it open a different sort of wound?
3. Time made projects better.
For many filmmakers, time wreaks havoc on their projects. Cast dropouts, financing evaporation, weather, revolution, etc. Yet many 2010 Sundance Film Festival filmmakers proved wonderfully hard-headed. Robin Hessman watched two and a half years go by after successive setbacks forced her to keep shooting My Perestroika.
Tanya Hamilton spent 10 years on Night Catches Us after work-shopping the script at the ’99 Sundance Lab. Derek Cianfrance worked 12 years pushing Blue Valentine. Yet every filmmaker would say the time was worth it. During his marathon, Cianfrance got married and had a child, which changed the project in profound ways. “I wasn’t ready to make this movie 12 years ago,” he confessed.
*Note: Filmmakers without a distribution deal may leave Park City with more time added onto their job. 2010 showed that old concepts of self distribution have a new life. Many 2010 filmmakers will become marketers, scouring the world for their audiences. And while new tools will help uncover ticket (or DVD, or VOD, or download) buyers, many can expect another year or two of their lives will be spent with sleeves rolled up.
4. There was only one lounge worth its name.
Beyond a doubt, 2010 proved that any party held at a “lounge” was to be skipped, unless it was the Sundance Late Night Lounge. Taking over the Filmmakers Lodge every night at 10:00 p.m., filmmakers (and anyone who could talk their way in) got into Park City’s best party. Who knew the hottest destination in Park City would have a cash bar? Apparently Sundance did, whose staff kept tight control of the door.
The dance floor was packed with filmmakers with energy to burn while a separate, quieter space was maintained for conversation. While other lounges boasted their celeb numbers, the LNL became the only place to meet a large dose of 2010 filmmakers at once. In its own unique way, the parties did what Sundance does best: put artists with artists. Business cards were exchanged. How-did-you-shoot-that questions were answered. And sometimes shirts came off.