To see Park City, Utah, on opening day of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival is to experience the quiet before the storm – or the avalanche. Thursday afternoon, the streets were not yet clogged with cars. The sidewalks were navigable, and the people on them were more likely to have lift tickets than industry badges hanging from their jackets. And you could still get iPhone coverage. (There’s supposed to be free WiFi this year that will improve last year’s notorious 3G meltdown.)
That’s all going to change Friday, as filmmakers, journalists, distributors, cinephiles, and every type of hanger-on from around the planet descends upon this snowy ski resort town. And while much of the drama of Sundance usually revolves around which movies will generate enough buzz to inspire courtship from film studios or TV networks, several titles have already taken themselves out of that running by announcing deals prior to the festival’s launch.
Sony Picture Classics has already picked up the drama Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon (The Runaways, Bug) and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a satirical documentary about product placement from Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). Fox Searchlight will be generating publicity for their upcoming titles, the charming comedy Cedar Rapids – starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche – and Win Win, the latest from actor-writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor) and starring newly-minted Golden Globe–winner Paul Giamatti.
On the documentary side, films have already found berths on cable TV, with HBO picking up the communicating-monkey movie Project Nim from James Marsh, director of the vertiginous Man on Wire, and A&E nabbing Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, about legendary exploitation filmmaker Roger Corman, the man who launched the careers of Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, and dozens more.
What are the hot items among the uncommitted movies? It’s a little early to say, but there’s definitely high want-to-see enthusiasm bubbling up over Red State (Kevin Smith’s foray into topical horror), My Idiot Brother (which features a stand-out comedic cast, including Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, and Zooey Deschanel), and Margin Call (a financial thriller with Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci).
As for titles not attached to any big names, there’s lots of talk already about Silent House, a horror indie which – like TimeCode and Russian Ark before it – is said to have been shot in just one long take.