Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Sundance Aftermath: Good Business or High-Altitude Sickness?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Sundance Aftermath: Good Business or High-Altitude Sickness?

Article excerpt

PARK CITY, Utah -- The avalanche at the Sundance Film Festival had nothing to do with snow.

The festival was instead overrun by a blizzard of money, millions spent on a number of small art films some fear have little chance of ever justifying their steep cost.

"It was completely delusional," says Tony Safford, a vice president at 20th Century Fox and one of the few Sundance shoppers who went home from last week's festival with his checkbook intact. "I feel like I'm standing at the Roman walls yelling, `The Huns are coming!' and no one is paying attention." The wave of hefty distribution deals -- a reported $6 million for the romantic comedy Next Stop, Wonderland and $6 million for the Australian film The Castle leading the list -- signaled a milestone in the evolution of Sundance and, simultaneously, the evolution of independent cinema. With the major studios controlling the leading distributors of art film, Sundance's specialized movies are now expected to generate box- office grosses few independent films previously attained. "The independent market is overheated," says Ray Price of Trimark Pictures, which bought the grand prize-winning Slam and Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss at the just-concluded festival. "But that's the nature of capitalism. All markets overheat, and then they fall back." When the markets fall back, will they drag down several more independent distributors? Will the only remaining players be those "independent" companies financed by the Walt Disney (Miramax Films) Seagram (October Releasing), News Corp. (Fox Searchlight) and Time Warner (Fine Line Features) -- companies increasingly hesitant to handle little, provocative films? "The bar is raised for everybody -- it changes the whole face of the specialized film world," says Steve Fagan, national sales manager for the small distributor Arrow. …

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