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in Filmmaking
on Jan 17, 2008

As I type this I’m on my way to the Sundance Film Festival, where the Filmmaker team will be filing coverage all week. I’ll be blogging along with Jason Guerrasio and Justin Lowe; Jamie Stuart will be shooting video – creating one of his own typically personal and idiosyncratic portraits of festival life as well as filming interviews with directors and actors which you’ll see in the months ahead; if all goes well, Brian Chirls will be shooting and posting video from the fest’s panels and programs; and, Brandon Harris will be covering Slamdance, blogging news and reviews from the other Park City film festival.

Check out our pre-Sundance and Slamdance coverage by clicking through to the blog we’ve set up for our “Playing the Percentages” feature, in which we asked Sundance’s feature directors to tell us what they wished they had 10% more of when they made their feature. They’ve been going up daily, and by tomorrow all of the responses will be posted. For Slamdance, check this blog for Brandon Harris’s reports from the fest, and for a series of interviews by Harris with Slamdance directors, check the “Web Exclusives” section tomorrow. And if you are attending Sundance and want to forward us any news, tips or opinions of your own, you can email me at filmmakermageditor at gmail.com with “Sundance” in the subject line.

So, before the festival kicks off, what am I looking forward to? With the catalog on my lap, here are some quick thoughts:

American Son: Neil Abramson made an interesting, visually striking and somewhat experimental independent film called Without Air back in 1997. His new film stars Nick Cannon and the always great Melonie Diaz along with Tom Sizemore in a supporting role. Shooting Sizemore was unforgettable television and after watching Sizemore plough through a schlocky horror film in that reality series I’m happy to see him here in something that should be a lot better.

Choke: This Chuck Palahniuk adaptation has top-flight talent up and down the line, including d.p. Tim Orr and editor Joel Klotz.

Downloading Nancy: This is one of those script’s that’s been around. I remember reading it years ago, and the only reason it’s taken a long time to get made is because of its truly dark subject matter — it’s about a woman who finds a man who agrees to kill her over the internet. At one point Holly Hunter and Stellan Skarsgaard were set; now it’s Maria Bello and Jason Patric. And the director? The fantastic video director Johan Renck in his feature debut. I’m really looking forward to this one.

The Last Word: Geoff Haley was one of our 25 New Faces back in 2002. He’s worked for Soderbergh quite a bit and this is his feature debut.

Phoebe in Wonderland (pictured): Fantastic script by this year’s 25 New Face Daniel Barnz. I also read this one as well years ago and thought the script was great. Again, great talent up and down the line, and after her small but very moving moments in Reservation Road, I have no doubt that Elle Fanning will shine.

Pretty Bird: Paul Schneider has appeared in David Gordon Green’s films, including playing the lead in All the Real Girls. I always loved his in-person idiosyncratic humor and am excited to see what his directorial sensibility is like.

Sleep Dealer: Another provocative script that’s made the rounds. We selected writer/director Alex Rivera for the 25 New Faces back in 2002. And, this is one project that I predict will have been well served by the passing of time. Its themes – immigration, outsourcing, globalism, and technology – are way more relevant now than when Rivera started. Sensibility wise, the script reminded me a bit of Verhoeven in its sly sci-fi satire.

Sugar: Half Nelson writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck make their return to Sundance with a film about a Dominican baseball player trying to make it in the U.S. minor leagues. I really admire these guys for not getting mired in development hell and making another film fairly quickly after Half Nelson. And I hope Sundance turns out happily for them; reportedly, due to the HBO/Picturehouse split, the film has no theatrical distributor and will be placed on the market at the festival.

Sunshine Cleaning. Megan Holley’s script, about two sisters who open a crime scene cleaning service was fantastic when I read it years ago. Since then, when it was a intriguing indie dramedy, the film has scaled up considerably with director Christine Jeffs taking the reins. It stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in the lead roles. Very high hopes for this one.

The Wackness: The buzz is really good on Jonathan Levine’s comedy, and I will annoyingly point out that it stars another 25 New Face, Olivia Thirlby.

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures: Know nothing about it, but I like the concept, a sort of doc version of Broken Flowers.

Be Kind Rewind: Okay, I’m not really looking forward to it because I’ve already seen it, but I do love Michel Gondry’s wonderful celebration of DIY artmaking. For those who’ve only seen the trailers: the film is a lot better and has a lot more substance to it.

Death in Love: I’ve liked Boaz Yakin’s features, particularly Fresh, and I was really taken by his heart-felt answer to our “10%” question, in which he wished that the financiers who bailed on his film had 10% more faith in him. Yakin says he has put everything he owns into this film, so I will be rooting for it.

The Great Buck Howard: After two magic-themed movies in recent years –- The Illusionist and The Prestige –- Sean McGinley brings us a film set within the world of mentalism, which is enjoying something of a resurgence now thanks to innovative performers like Derren Brown. I’m quite interested in this one.

The Guitar: Amos Poe’s script has been around for a while — he wrote the first draft in 1994 — and Poe has always been a fascinating writer (and director). Amy Redford directed this and Saffron Burrows, who I’ve always thought was pretty underrated, stars. Very eager to see this.

Henry Poole is Here: I’ve always liked Mark Pellington and am eager to see what is reportedly a very personal film from him.

Baghead: I read this script by the Duplasse Brothers shortly after seeing their film The Puffy Chair and thought it was great. It’s a comedy/horror hybrid about a group of actors who decide to jumpstart their careers by going to the woods and making an indie film. But soon someone – one of them? – starts terrorizing them by appearing, menacingly, wearing a bag over his (or her) head. The thing about the script was that this silly concept actually felt quite scary.

Birds of America: Read this script too and thought it definitely transcended its potentially too-quirky dysfunctional family relationship comedy. This film went through something of a whirlwind pre-production, signing on director Craig Lucas while the film was in prep.

Goliath: Long-awaited debut feature from Austin’s best-kept not-so-secret comedy geniuses the Zellner Brothers.

Momma’s Man: Liked this script by 25 New Face Azazel Jacobs, but really liked it after seeing his previous feature, The Good Times Kid. I think he’s ferociously talented and it will be interesting to see his dad, experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, on screen as an actor.

Adventures of Power: I’m sounding like a broken record, I know, but I loved Ari Gold’s amazing short “Helicopter” back when we put him in our 25 New Faces” of 2004. Read this script too and thought it was smart and funny.

Half-Life: Saw early cuts of Jennifer Phang’s feature when we selected it for the IFP Rough Cuts Lab. Programmed in the Frontier section, this is one of those films that draws a real psychic bead on what life is like in this country right now.

Reversion: I was a big fan of Mia Trachinger’s previous film, Bunny. I know next to nothing about this but there was enough promise in Trachinger’s previous film to make me excited about this one.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Marina Zenovitch’s film looks to be something of a confrontational meditation on the live and times of the great director.

Nerakhoon: Directorial debut from genius d.p. Ellen Kuras is a documentary about a Laotian family who emigrate to the U.S. after the communist takeover in 1975. The film’s principal subject is also its editor, and Kuras based this film on not only the family’s history but also her friendship with them over 20 years.

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