YOU’RE NOT ON THE LIST!
Filmmakers attending Sundance next week may hear the line above as they stand outside the Cinetic or William Morris parties, but for, oh, a couple of thousand feature directors, those words came a bit early – when they got their Sundance rejection letters.
As Filmmaker’s editor, I go through several phases when I review Sundance’s annual list. There’s my first, “Oh, great, that got in” reaction when I see that films I’ve been looking forward to screening have made the cut. And then there’s the “Wow, how did they get that finished in time?” take on movies that entered production in August, September and even October but have managed to still slip into the fest. Next are my “They selected that!” exclamations when I see that films I think are going to suck are debuting in Park City. (Last year, one of these films — A Guide to Recognizing your Saints, which I read the script of and didn’t like, turned out to be one of my favorites, so go figure.) Then there are the films and filmmakers I’ve never heard of, the ones that send me to the search engines for more info.
A few days later, though, another list forms in my mind: the films I expected to see but for whatever reason aren’t in the fest. Some weren’t finished in time, are in need of reshoots, are planning to premiere in Berlin or Cannes, ran out of money… but most, simply, just didn’t get in.
In a rational marketplace, this wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. But given that so many indie-film investor business plans end with the words “and then we premiere at Sundance,” it’s painful to talk with producers and directors who have not a clue as to what to do with their movies now that the Sundance programmers have given them the axe. Especially sad are the rejections received by films that the industry dubs as “Sundance films.” Sometimes said as praise, sometimes said pejoratively, the terms refer to American independent films that are often human-scale and character based… “ethnographic fictions,” Amy Taubin has called them. But it also refers, subtly, to films from emerging talent that are perceived to need the programming imprimatur and early critical exposure of the festival to convince a distributor to buy them.
There are Sundance films that never went to Sundance and were acquired elsewhere (George Washington and Sling Blade are just two examples), and there are other festivals and venues where Sundance films films can be screened and acquired (although their collective sales record last year was poor). But for a Sundance film without a smart “Plan B” in place, a Sundance rejection can be fatal.
If you’ve got a film that didn’t get in, what are you doing now? Post anonymously if you want.