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Sundance aims indie films beyond festival confines

Fri, 01/22/2010 - 8:01am
DAVID GERMAIN - AP Movie Writer - Associated Press

The prestige of a director who makes it into the Sundance Film Festival often can be undermined by one simple question: Where can their movies be seen in the real world?

"Nowhere" often is the answer, unless fans make the journey to snowy Utah during Sundance or happen to live near another festival or art house that might play the films eventually.

Technology and a new Sundance road show are helping festival organizers and filmmakers expand their audience. On Thursday, as the event heads into the closing weekend of its 11-day run, eight films and their directors will be in eight cities around the country, giving fans a taste of the nation's top showcase for independent cinema without having to leave home.

"It's almost like vaudeville in a way," said festival director John Cooper. "We just decided to take it out to the people, and we're going to grow it from there."

The titles going on the road include Ben Affleck's corporate-downsizing drama "The Company Men," written and directed by John Wells ("ER, "The West Wing"), playing in Brookline, Mass.; Philip Seymour Hoffman's directing debut "Jack Goes Boating," a romance in which he co-stars with Amy Ryan, showing in Chicago; and "Entourage" star Adrien Grenier's celebrity-culture documentary "Teenage Paparazzo," screening in Los Angeles.

There also will be screenings in San Francisco; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Madison, Wis.

Other films are getting a jump on the usual scramble to find a theatrical distributor: They're heading to video-on-demand release, which allows millions of viewers to watch the films on TV or via Internet download.

The Sundance Institute and Sundance Selects, operated by Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Rainbow Media, are putting three titles out through video-on-demand the same day they premiere at the festival: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' documentary "The Shock Doctrine," Josh and Benny Safdie's parenthood tale "Daddy Longlegs," and Daniel Grou's revenge thriller "7 Days."

"You don't necessarily need to live in New York or San Francisco or L.A.," Benny Safdie said. "People in Alabama or Montana can see the films."

YouTube, owned by Google Inc., also is making three films from the current festival and two that played last year available for rental on its site, adding another outlet for people far and wide to get a taste of Sundance.

Some Sundance entries land theatrical distribution or make it to cable television. Those that do make it into commercial theaters might only play in one or two cinemas, with Sundance hits such as "Little Miss Sunshine," ''Napoleon Dynamite" and last year's "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire" the rarities that make it to nationwide release.

Even when Sundance films do make it into theaters, it usually comes months, or even a year or more, after they play the festival. Video-on-demand systems allow audiences to catch some of the Sundance vibe almost instantly.

Director and star Linas Phillips' "Bass Ackwards," in which he plays a heartsick man on a cross-country trek, will be available via video- and DVD-on-demand through New Video Group Inc. and Zipline Entertainment LLC on Feb. 1, the day after the festival closes and barely a week after the film's Sundance premiere.

That will take the film far beyond the enthusiastic but small audience of people who make the journey to Sundance itself.

The festival circuit is "like this whole other world, like you're part of a cult," Phillips said. "You might as well be talking Greek when you're talking about these films to your mom or your uncle or other people who you think might like these films. ...

"This is very empowering," Phillips said. "It's getting my work out there. It's so much better than e-mailing friends and saying, 'Hey, my film's playing in Chicago for five nights. Do you know anyone there?'"

___

On the Net:

Sundance Film Festival: http://festival.sundance.org/2010

Thursday's nationwide shows: http://festival.sundance.org/2010/film_events/sundance_usa/

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