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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tribute to Women in Film

Back at the beginning of October Warner Bros. head of production, Jeff Robinov, publicly spued “We are no longer going to make films with women in the lead.” Robinov’s words follow two WB female-led movies under performing at the box office, The Brave One with Jodie Foster and The Invasion with Nicole Kidman.

To make up for this one of year 2007 most idiot statement by a studio executive I post this tribute to women leads in film by Phillip Scott Johnson and the women:

Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Ruth Chatterton, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Loretta Young, Deborah Kerr, Judy Garland, Anne Baxter, Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley MacLaine, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Janet Leigh, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Ann Margret, Julie Andrews, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver, Kathleen Turner, Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Diane Lane, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry

Music: Bach's Prelude from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jonny Be Gone

How is it that we can be 6,000 miles away in Brazil and still hear the news that Diablo dumped Jonny? Bush could have bombed Iran and we would not have heard about it BUT Diablo dumps Jonny and has tatoo banner redesigned into Oscar roses... now that's world-wide news.

Jonny is the man Cody pledged to Steve Marsh in her Mpls/St. Paul magazine interview a few short months ago she'd never, ever get rid of due to her meteoric rise (watch out for the slippery slope) in Hollywood.

You had to see that coming even from 6 thousand miles away.

As they say in L.A., "Never say never." And tatoos can be fixed.

Monday, December 03, 2007


A few weeks back Screenlabs blog got a special exclusive invitation to see JUNO, well, us and 400 kids from area high schools. We walked to the Lagoon Theater in Uptown, looked for the Fox Seachlight hired promo ace and BOOM we were though the turnstiles. And while the wide release date looks to be pushed to Christmas week, this long awaited and much ballyhooed Oscar hopeful is now playing in a few selected cities.

Believe me, there was a lot of chewing gum and text messaging going on around us once we got in our seats. The target audience for this film, I observed, has to be 15-year-old teens who gotta have unlimited minutes plan on the 'rents credit (who has time to worry about how many minutes you've got left?) and sharky grrrls with major attitude. Those TSA-styled movie industry thugs who strip search and confiscate cell phones outside movie screenings scare me but these kids blow them off, stuff their hand-devices in their undies without stop while keying their current rely.

A semi-depressed mid-teen girl dressed in grungy-T and tattered tights a few seats to my left is, like, breaking up with her boyfriend and trying to get in her last words in before the trailers start.

Behind me is a group of three boys, obviously geeky, smart, and high tech who all seem to be struggling with graduating from college. Not that they can't afford to graduate or that they aren't "college material" but they are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs types who don't see the point of wasting time in college so they went out and got jobs at Radio Shack

But we got free Fighting Elk T-shirts!

Where do you buy a mailing list for this target audience? Are these kids who all bought pink and purple Hello Kitty cell phones at the kiosk at Ridgedale Mall? If this room full of teenage lust is the target list, than we're sitting in front of the right movie to rock their world.

Ellen Page is perfect. She deserves an Oscar nom for this acting performance.

JUNO is a coming-of-age teenage, not too original, movie that feels a bit like a TV episode of THAT '70s SHOW. Cody's whipslash dialogue is sizzling and new to commercial films and would never pass censors on TV. Already, all over the net you'll find naysaysers who dispute JUNO's originality, its new vision, and the indie sophistication it tries to pass off in the marketplace.

Cody's JUNO is not Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER but there certainly is more humor and subtle critique in JUNO than LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, AMERICAN PIE, or PORKY'S. Let's be honest, comparing JUNO to the 2004 NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, as I think Jason Reitman started to realize after final edit, is an bitch-slap.

Juno McGriff, who Page plays, is a street-smart girl who knows she's still a kid and needs to remind the adults around her of her teen irresponsible nature and that THEY are suppose to be the ADULTS. The dysfunctional world spinning around her is not teens out of control but instead fueled by feckless and fickle adults. Juno's musings on the nature of her predicament, her quick sass back toward friends and parents, and especially her tender yet blunt comments to the clueless boyfriend are well-worth the ticket price.

The reason Hollywood is gah-gah over Diablo Cody is because, first, they know how to and love exploiting the teenage audience especially when they have 2 weeks off school between Christmas and New Year. The studio execs realize they are a bunch of old men who don't speak the sexy double talk of cyber language in chat rooms, blogs, and the snap back of shopping malls cruisers. Cody does. They fear loosing this cash-cow audience segment to the internet.

Second, Diablo Cody is her own marketing machine. Well before entering the self-marketing center of the universe, Cody was molding every PR opportunity in her favor and blogging it - whether it be her naughtly photo in Mpls/St. Paul magazine episode that she deftly manipulated to get into CJ's column to seducing David Letterman with raunchy couch-talk - she's got that big Hollywood gossip entertainment instinct.

And while the smart-set always tries to criticize new films by the tyranny of "it's not original" it really doesn't matter because the more films you see, the greater number of books you read, theater scripts, film scripts, poems, short stories you will begin to discover nothing is original. The charge "it is not original" can be used against piece of art or literature without comeback. But JUNO is fresh for the fact that the dialog will amuse, the perspective of the lead character is uplifitingly real and invigoratingly present day.

I liked JUNO a lot and a huge number people are going to love it to death - most definitely the teenage girl who catches you out of the corner of her eye looking her Apple iPhone touch screen and snaps, "What are you LOOKING at scumbag?"

If you act really fast, you might be able to get tickets to the Walker Art Center's FIRST LOOKS series screening of JUNO with Diablo Cody introducing her film and taking questions. General public tickets go on sale December 4th and it will likely sell out fast. Call: 612.375.7600 or walkerart.org/tickets/

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


David Carr has relaunched his seasonal Carpetbagger column in the NY Times as we head into the Oscar season. The concept behind Carr adopting the self-described kissy-entertainment reporter identity (the man standing on the red carpet) is for the ex-Minnesota Twin Cities Reader reporter to blog about Oscar celebs leading into the statute horse race.

In one of his first blogs, Carr reveals he is writing a story of the upcoming Sunday NYT (December 2, 2007) on Minnesota-girl-gone-Hollywood Diablo Cody while speaking to JUNO film lead and Halifax native Ellen Page.

Carr also confesses he is ashamed of his kissy-ass reporting for the Bagger blog. Humm... I wonder who's holding the gun to his head?

Sunday, November 25, 2007


TERROR'S ADVOCATE opened this weekend at my neighborhood movie house, the Oak Street cinema. A small movie on a complex subject, it is the work of accomplished French director, Barbet Schroeder who never stops to wallow in fame or fortune and continues to explore controversial topics and the people at the center of international uproar.

In today's political world simply being French and born in Iran could be inflammatory enough to get all the smashmouth screaming radio-jocks and FOX News anti-intellectual blowhards spitting and angry invective. Add to that the subject of this film, Jacques Verges, the lawyer who defended Pol Pot, Carlos the Jackal, Slobodna Milosovic and Klaus Barbie and the wizards of emotional spin on the right-wing are likely to go all-Taliban on us.

Even decent Americans who believe in the fundamental America right in the great writ of habeas corpus might wonder why Verges is attracted to the most evil men in the world and how he can defend their rationalizations let alone be in their close company.

Barbet Schroeder is a French director born in 1941 in Tehran to a German-born physician mother and a Swiss geologist father who came into filmmaking during the French New Wave of the early 1960s. He grew up much of his youth in Central Africa and Columbia before settling in Paris. Schroeder is also fascinated by why and how people become so contestable.

Barbet's first film as a director was MORE (1969) on the subject of heroin addiction but he later directed a number of large budget American films BARFLY (1987) with Mickey Rourke based on the alcoholic poet Charles Bukowski (the first of many Bukowski bio-films); KISS OF DEATH (1995) another thriller with Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson; SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) a New York thriller starring Bridget Fonda; and notably REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990) that won an Oscar for Jeremy Irons for his depiction of the films subject Claus Von Bulow.

Barbet is well known for his 25 year engagement with French New Wave star and working theater actress Bulle Ogier (mother of the late film star Pascale Ogier) until he finally married Bulle in 2000. I first met Barbet in Los Angeles in 1984 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel while he was preparing for the Bukowski film. Despite his cross over success from the French producer of Eric Rohmer's films to director of big-budget American films, Barbet remained interested in making small films that challenge educated art-house audiences and clearly L'Avocat de la Terreur (TERROR'S ADVOCATE) is one of his films that asks us to look at the world with all its complexity instead of simple black and white dichotomies.

Schroeder is a filmmaker who keeps us actively thinking about the moral and ethical dimensions of our world. He could be making millions of dollars shooting action thrillers but there is more to life than fame and fortune.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Found this story in the Huffington Post from the picket line:

OKAY, I know you are screaming that we are not offering balanced and objective journalism (like you are used to with FOX News?), so in the interest of providing the other side in this debate, here is Producer Roger A. Trivanti:**

Thanks Mike Maupin for refusing to write anything in the coming days as we near Thanksgiving, but remember, you cannot use the WGA Strike as an excuse for being lazy and not blogging or making deadlines. You must be covered by the WGA contract pending and not just writers' block. You're only striking yourself and we see through the guise. Being lazy is not the same as being on strike. Writers block cannot be blamed on the strike!

** If you are having trouble viewing the clip of Roger A. Trivanti, remember, there is a strike on right now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


A Letter from Dave Halls

Our friend John Soberg passed away this week. He was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct in May. John was a member of the Minnesota Film and TV Board of Directors, as well as an executive committee member of Shoot In Minnesota. Many of you did not know John, but you should know the impact he had on our production community.

John almost literally "fell out of the sky" for us. Three years ago I received a phone call from him, and he introduced himself by saying that he briefly was a stand-in for Garrison Keilor on "A Prairie Home Companion.” He said he was fascinated by our industry, and was amazed to discover that Minnesota was rich in technical and production talent. He had heard that locally our industry was struggling, and was aware that there was an effort underway to lobby the state legislature for production incentives. John told me that he was fortunate to have been successful in his business ventures and was looking for new challenges in his life. He mentioned that he had experience as a volunteer lobbyist in Washington, D.C. as well as being politically connected here in Minnesota. He asked if he could be of help to Shoot In Minnesota.

John was extremely intelligent and articulate. He was a big man both physically and spiritually. At 45 years of age, he died too young, yet he was a wise old soul. He was one of those people that seemed to always say and do the right thing. He also did what he said he was going to do. John often said to me, "the only thing we are fighting against is fear, doubt and uncertainty". I know that John lived by those words until his last breath.

John's talents and abilities were quickly noticed by Lucinda Winter, Executive Director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board. John became a member of the Film and TV Board of Directors in 2006 and served as Chair of the Snowbate Operations Committee.

Whenever the legislative process became difficult to understand or when there were moments of despair, John was always there with sage advice, a positive attitude and a plan of action.

It was always a bit of a mystery to me why John was compelled to help in the effort to strengthen production incentives in Minnesota. His motivations were not driven by professional or financial gain from the motion picture industry. He told me that he did not quite understand it either, but that he did indeed feel "a calling" to be involved. In an email that John sent out in May, announcing that he had been diagnosed with cancer he said the following, "It has been a great journey. Several lifetimes of experience and adventure have been compacted into these years. I have found that service to others is the most fulfilling.”

John was indeed a man of service. He gave his time unselfishly to our cause. John took the time out of his busy days, managing his businesses, and raising his four boys, to give advice, encouragement and to take action. John represented our community well at the State Capitol as he met with legislators and Governor Pawlenty. John attended a meeting at the Capitol in September with representatives of the Governor’s office. John was visibly very ill and under quite a bit of discomfort at that time, but remained his old self - articulate and persuasive.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to John's wife Tarryn and their four boys, Zach, Alex, Daniel and Benjamin.

John's absence in our community will surely be felt. Yet, we are stronger, better people for knowing him. In honor of his memory we move on, always fighting fear, doubt and uncertainty.

God Bless John Soberg

Dave Halls
Executive Director/Shoot In Minnesota

Friday, November 16, 2007


Live from New York its Saturday night...!

One thing I've thought long and hard about with labor strikes is why the producers, instead of just being role players in the production process, somehow own the labor and creativity of writers and actors. Why do the creative players so easily relinquish the product of their labor? Being on strike doesn't mean you have to live under the steal heal of the man! Take control of your labor and creativity.

According to items on Broadcast & Cable web site and TV Squad the crews and cast of SNL and 30 Rock plan live performances at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and, of course, the tickets for Saturday and Sunday were instantly sold out.

NEXT STEP: Tape them, stream and post the live performances on the internet. And it would be great to see episodes of The Daily Show and Colbert Report performed as live stage shows as well. The WGA could use the vast network on the web to schedule meetups along with live performances in cities around the U.S. for a variety of the shows no longer in production. And the proceeds from the performances as well as internet ad sales could go to benefit the WGA strike fund.


Finally, the AMPTP's has a spokesman who is clearly articulating their concerns in a personal and passionate response to the WGA. It is important that you listen to this man's plea for understanding. There is more than one side to this strike... Please listen!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Have you ever been out on a first or blind date and exploring the world of shared interests with the person you've just met and THEN the shoe drops. You find out the other is a Darkon superhereo RPG or s/he starts talking very seriously about how shape-shifting lizard-people are running the world or Paul Is Dead! and was replaced by a look-a-like Billy Shepherd back in December 1966. Or she loved the movie TROLL 2. WTF?

Well, I have had all these dates during the first 40-some years of my life (before I met the most incredible woman in the world) it seemed these types of dates were the only ones I'd ever get ONCE.

TROLL 2 has won the distinction as the worst movie EVER! Bad writing, bad acting, bad direction, filmed in Utah... a movie that has it all. Although I have a hard time telling good horror films from bad, my standard is if it reminds me of all the bad dates I've ever suffered then it's a nighmare.

Then in 2007, or so the story continues, TROLL 2 became a cult classic, at least in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake where audiences line up around the block to see midnight matinees of the movie and shout lines from the amateur actors mouth before they say them just like ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. When actors, producers and the director appear at the screenings, frantic fans earnestly tell them how much they loved their performance and how "honest" and authentic their emotions are in the film. Astonished, all those actors can respond with is "Really?"

The lead actor Michael Stephenson, who played the 11-year-old lead Joshua Waits in TROLL 2 and regretted it for the next ten years of his life, has made The Best Worst Movie, a documentary marking the evolution from its making in the ealty 90s to its being declared the best worst movie to its comeback as a cult hit in 2006.

Stranger things have happened. You know NASA faked the moon landings.

Trust me: It's best not to go looking for old flames.

Monday, November 12, 2007


As they say, films are written at least twice -- once by the screenwriter during pre-production and then again by the editor when cutting the film. A story can change radically through this process and nuance can be added or lost.

In this YouTube clip are a few scenes cut and deleted from the 2003 film HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG exquisitely adapted by Shawn Lawrence Otto and edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin (DEAD MEN WALKING, GATTACA, CEDAR HOUSE RULES among others) with voice over by director Vadim Perelman.

Often, story or character exposition is left on the cutting floor for the sake of timing and pacing through the dramatic apex of the film or when it seems plotting and repetitive. However, in this set of deleted scenes, probably the most missed scene cut fom the film is between Ron Eldard (playing the deputy sheriff Lester), Ben Kingsley (playing Behrani) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (playing Nadi).

Editing a film is a reductive process, while writing it is a additive and creative building endeavour. A million decisions have to be made and each could have a significant impact on the quality of the finished movie. The debate around these decisions and all the aesthetic considerations are the tools to honing the art and craft of filmmaking.

There are no right and wrong answers, just better ways to reach masterful films - that is what can be so vexing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


United Hollywood has become the homepage/blog of the WGA strike with daily updates on the progress of the industrial action. Striking writers have been encourage to write their thoughts on the strike and offer suggestions on possible resolutions including a modest proposal to Google by writer, director, producer, and WGA member Ed Decter.


A lay person's explanation (sans lawyers) for the uninitiated about the issues behind the WGA strike from Greg Daniels, Paul Lieberstein, Mike Schur, B.J. Novak, Kelly Kapoor all the writers for the THE OFFICE, a show with 7 million iTunes downloads and no compensation to the writers... Watch, Listen and Decide.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Striking under Walter P. Reuther was never this exciting!

Diablo Cody, who Hollywood elsewhere's Jeffrey Welles has taken to calling "the new Tarantino" takes the picket line outside Paramounts Bronson gate entrance after a world-wind tour of Italy and London pimping her film JUNO at world festivals.

Is that Versace couture - sexy, fierce, and chic? Cody is high on everybodies preliminary lists for an original screenplay Oscar. Other Minnesotan's topping the lists are the Coen Brothers for best adapted screenplay and best picture for their NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN opening this weekend in theaters.

Talk around Hollywood is Cody had dinner with auteur director/producer Quentin Tarantino (if you're the new-Tarantino a meet is inorder) and also did phone with legendary rocker Roger Daltrey and posed in front of an Audi, tatoos ablaze in the flash of photographers strobes for the AFI Centerpiece Gala for JUNO -- officially the L.A. opening for her film.

As Jason Reitman blogged, JUNO got to play the Cineramadome, "...one of those milestones every filmmaker wants to hit in their lifetime" said the 30-year-old film director. However, Reitman felt comedy doesn't play as spirited on the crowd in the Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes vast space.

"That high ceiling just sucks the energy out of the room," blogged Reitman about the geodesic that is regarded to have the highest ratio of enclosed volume to weight.

An Edgar Wright Interview with Diablo Cody captures the mood of L.A. striking writers while their conversation naturally drifts toward the life of a stripper. As with the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly demonstrates, the rag to riches tale of stripper to Hollywood A-list writer suggests she is holding onto the tail of the dragon. In that article she explains that she wrote JUNO while sitting in a suburban Minneapolis Target store - a world vastly removed from that of an A-lister in Hollywood.

If Diablo hopes the talk about her adventures as Margaret Meade in the red light district will end with JUNO, just wait until she's up for an Academy Award.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Bob Dylan, over the course of decades in the public spotlight is everything from a 60s pop icon to a angry recluse, a poet political sage, cowboy individualist, religious rivivalist, and a traveling troubadour. How do you play all these characters, wear all these hats, manifest all these roles? Better yet, how does a filmmaker portray them?

Todd Haynes has been American indie film's deconstructionist and semiologist and for him the big question is how do you cast Bob Dylan? Haynes' answer: six different actors; one of them a woman (Cate Blanchett), Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and one a young black actor Marcus Carl Franklin all using alias to evoke the periods in Dylan's life.

In addition to switching and manipulating film stocks, Haynes also jumped between psuedo-documentary (i.e., THIS IS SPINAL TAP) and dramatization while turning bio-pic genre on its ear. Not only does genre shifting present the director with unique challenges and the audience with a suspension of disbelief, it also provides an opportunity to describe Dylan in a fashion Dylan always cast himself -- a private man who's public faces were masked fictional personifications as whole and mulitfaceted as the songs the Hibbing native wrote and sang.

Two years ago I spoke with Todd Haynes when he was in Minneapolis at a reception for the 75th anniversary of the Jerome Foundation. I always felt Dylan in London, who leaped to the height of his fame in 1965 with his World Tour, was the most other-worldly of all the Dylan personifications over time. This was not the Dylan of Hibbing, Minnesota. This was a highly groomed, androgynous and pixy-pretty Dylan. Haynes agreed and told me he cast Blanchett to play Dylan during that period in his life. I was amazed at Haynes decision and she's amazing as Dylan or "Jude."

Haynes brillance, aside from daring-do, is in breaking through and looking at style conventions, like his 2002 drama FAR FROM HEAVEN did with cinema of the 1950s. With I'M NOT THERE, Haynes looks at film in the 1960s, media stardom, press mediated pop-music, and how Dylan deconstructed his own iconic image in the popular culture. Paying homage to Fellini's 8 1/2 and grainy balck and white rock docs such as the famed 1967 D.A. Pennebacker film DON'T LOOK BACK, Haynes dazzles again with his artful direction of film frame and his actors to capture the significant feeling of time. I'M NOT THERE is especially thrilling and filled with pregnant moments and poignant dialogue you'll recognize if you are a Dylan fan and know the entire Dylan canon of poetry and song.

I'M NOT THERE plays tonight in a special preview screening at the Walker Art Center with producer Christine Vachon will introduce the film and answer questions from the audience. The film will open in theaters on November 21st at Landmark Lagoon.

Walker Art Center: I'M NOT THERE

Friday, November 02, 2007


Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody accept the top prize at the 2007 Rome Film Festival for Cody's JUNO. Cody explained she was pimped in Versace dresses by Cody grooming Glam Squad before adding the old man's wooly rain cap.

The former-Minneapolis screenwriter can hardly believe her good luck in adapting to life in L.A. and the open doors she has encountered since moving to Tinsel Town. In addition to a grueling promotional tour, trips to film festivals to accept awards, being asked to reluctantly sit on "women in film" panels, she is also developing a TV series for Steven Speilberg called "United States of Tara" while facing a looming WGA writers strike.

Furthermore, there is much talk about Cody's next film, GIRLY STYLE an all-girl college sex comedy about a group of girls determined to lose their virginity yet may be too selective to achive their goals. Cody compares her movies to PORKY'S and other teenage sex titlators but believes she is taking risks by putting women in the lead roles normally reserved for young male actors.

Diablo Cody Interview

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Even if you are Welsh and have bad TEETH...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The venerated Wall Street Journal (WSJ) technology columnist Walt Mossberg recently commented (view the clip above) that the unholy alliance between handset makers and the cellphone networks needs to be broken. Absolutely!

The coercive effects on innovation the control by networks has had became much clearer when Apple came out with the iPhone, a palm device that much more than just a cell phone. The iPhone is truly a computer in your pocket with a content delivery system unrivaled in the past by any other hardware designer -- Motorola, Noika, LG, NEC, Samsung, Kyocera, Blackberry, etc. While these manufacturers tried to provide limited multimedia tidbits, primarily in the form of ringtones and wallpaper, they never came close to providing a rich environment that is open to video, music, graphics, web surfing, Google mapping, YouTube, email, and personal photography that iPhone amazingly provides.

By rich environment, Apple has created a cellphone operating eco-system that will allow third-party developers and vallue added retailers to write applications that do not come installed on the iPhone when you purchase it online, at the Apple store or from ATT. In Janaury Apple will release the software deveopers kit (SDK) for the legends of programmers who currently write widgets, plug-ins, full-blown GUI applications and open source projects currently for the Macintosh.

If the consumer can enjoy the freedom of being unchained from the dreaded calling plan a huge transformation of content delivery and mobile computing is awaiting them. New forms of creating and delivering stories as well as practical information will evolve. The irony with iPhone is, as Mossberg asserts, Apple was forced to make "a pact with the devil" ATT and lock iPhone to a restrictive service plan. Attempts by hackers and third-party developers to "unlock" the iPhone have resulted in hostile actions with software upgrades to "brick" iPhones and void the warrantee. But the cat is out of the bag. Law suits will follow. Mossberg puts out a siren call for government to step in and/or for disruptive technology to continue -- basically encouragement from WSJ's tech-guru for hackers to continue with their mission.

And with this new computing device and its power to deliver to the handset a variety of media, it is clear cellphone service providers have stymied technological advancement with their strangehold over the market. The iPhone is the first cellphone with an operating system developed independently from the cellphone netwoks and it is groundbreaking for that reason. But the battle is still not over. Listen to Uncle Walt. Break the lock!

Thursday, October 04, 2007


the true story of my fathers counterfeit life
based on the memoir by Jennifer Vogel 
script by Jez Butterworth 

One frosty winter morning, Jennifer Vogel's father went on the lam. John Vogel, fifty-two, had been arrested for single-handedly counterfeiting nearly $20 million in U.S. currency, the fourth-largest sum ever seized by federal agents. Unwisely, he was released pending trial. At that same time Jennifer had become one of the city's leading investigative journalists in the weekly tabloid press.

Though Jennifer hadn't spoken to him in four years, police suspected he might turn up at her Minneapolis apartment. They parked outside, watching her every move.  A skeptical crime reporter asking questions or a loving daughter seeking answers, she gives us a breathtaking glimpse into the secret life of the man she thought she knew best.

Jennifer Vogel's engaging and relentless account of her outlaw father is being adapted for film by British playwright and film director Jez Butterworth (MOJO, BIRTHDAY GIRL and THE LAST LEGION) and is adapting the James Brown story for producer/director Spike Lee and the Valerie Plame Story. Vogel and Butterworth will be at the Guthrie along with a local cast including Prairie Home Companion's Sue Scott, City Pages 2007 "Best Actress" Tracey Maloney, an amazing young Children Theater talent Raven Maizy Bellefleur, Emmy and Golden Globes nominated Linda Kelsey known for roles on "Lou Grant", "Detective Fictions" writer/director/actor Patrick Coyle and Stephen Pelinski. This ScriptNight staged script reading is produced/directed by Robb Mitchell with Jez Butterworth. 

Vogel, as depicted in the screenplay being developed for Sidney Kimmel Entertainment (SKE), was a student at the University of Minnesota and started in her field as a reporter for the Minnesota Daily. She continued her career in Minneapolis as an investigative reporter for City Pages uncovering stories of police corruption and the environmental impact of pesticides on toads. Her memoir was a National PEN Center Finalist in 2005 and the winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Creative Non-fiction the same year. Currently, she has accepted a temporary editors assignment with Mother Jones Magazine in San Francisco but maintains her home in Minneapolis.

ScriptNight is sponsored by Fredrikson & Byron, Minnesota Film and TV Board, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, The Rake Magazine, and the Screenwriters' Workshop in partnership with the Guthrie Dowling Studio.

For Tickets call Guthrie Box Office:  612.377.2224
or on the web: guthrietheater.org  --   $10.00 (one hamilton) 

Sunday, September 23, 2007


On Saturday September 22nd the Screenwriters Workshop announced the winners of the 2007 "A Simple Twist of Fate" Screenlabs Challenge.

Jury Award Best Short Film


Jury Award - Runner Up


Jury Award - Best Screenplay

Julie Kane Meyer for FORGOTTEN

Audience Award


The 2007 Jury was comprised of producer Christine Walker, producer/director Craig Rice, and Director of Photography Greg Winter with screenwriter Hafed Boussaida and Screenlabs producer Robb Mitchell. The audience award was decided online with 5718 votes cast and the winner edging out second place finisher by 19 votes.

Congratulations to the winners and all those who made it to the finish line!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Guthrie alumni actor John Carroll Lynch teamed up with Screenwriters' Workshop in May to read the script he co-authored with Tess Clark "Remember Minnesota." You all know John from his roles in FARGO and most recently ZODIAC. In the interview with FOX9, Brad Melby and Lynch talk about their plan to shoot the film in Minnesota in 2008.

Through the ScriptNight reading at the Ritz, the Workshop provides audiences, writers and actors with the opportunity to hear scripts in development read by professional actors and to gain insight prior to the film going into production. ScriptNight is presented on major stages including the Ritz Theater and the Guthrie Theaters new Dowling Lab, where works-in-progress are read.

The reading at the Ritz was produced by Robb Mitchell and Michael Maupin and featured a stellar cast including Mike Rylander, Stephen Pelinski, Bob Davis, Sara Marsh, Jonas Goslow, Maren Bush, Steve Yoakam, Sally Wingert, Brandon Ewald, Andrew Hovelson, and Sue Scott.

The reading of "Remember Minnesota" was made possible with financial contributions from Fredrikson & Byron, Ameriprise Financial, and the Minnesota Film and TV Board and with rooms provided our guests by Marriott Towne Place Suites.

Monday, June 04, 2007



In 1998 Minnesotan Garret Williams' first feature SPARK went to Sundance, ten years after Minnesotan's Sandy Smolan's RACHEL RIVER and David Burton Morris' PATTI ROCKS took the stage at Park City. While many lament the lack of Minnesota films at Sundance, the fact is that long before Patrick Coyle's DETECTIVE FICTION unreeled at the festival in 2003, there had been many Minnesotan's in the running for Sundance glory.

Truth be told, the expectations and high visibility of being accepted at Sundance had so eclipsed the early years of the festival that many, including writers for the StarTribune of Minneapolis had forgotten the legacy of Minnesota artists whose films has screening there and at the old US Film Festival. By the time Coyle arrived at Sundance so many Minnesotan's were saying DETECTIVE FICTION's acceptance was the "first Minnesota indie filmmaker" to be selected it was bewildering. How blind could people be?

Yet, a person really could not blame this misperception since Sundance had been radically transformed from the early days (before Geoffrey Gilmore) and its reputation really preceded itself. It almost seemed that, because of its distant existence on the outer edge of the universe, news about Sundance or at least its legends, could take a couple of years to enter the common vernacular.

In many people's minds Sundance was a monolithic gorilla holding the indie film world in its hands like Ann Darrow in KING KONG. But upclose and inside the the festival and institute to which it was attached, Sundance once again was unraveling by numbers. And the power center of indie film still did not rest with Sundance as both its pundits and supporters would want us to believe.

In an brilliantly insightful moment in the mid-90s, the people at Sundance had envisioned a world outside Park City that would transform film distribution and exhibition. The two vehicles Redford and the Sundance staff saw for exporting the brand were cable TV and special exhibition cinema centers that far exceeded the conventional four wall black room sticky floor with popcorn in the lobby arcades where films had been shown for decades -- a arcane model that came into existence in the 1930s and never really updated itself.

Ideas are great but basically a dime a dozen unless you can execute as almost any branding operation from Starbucks to Apple to Amazon can easily understand. And Sundance had a great idea. They launched the Sundance Channel for cable and in partnership with General Cinema (GC) began building two cinema complexes -- one in Westchester County north of New York City and the other in Portland, Oregon -- that would house a venue for Sundance indie films, cafe, restaurants, and retail devoted to indie cinema chic. These two cimena complexes were meant to be the first in a chain of cinema's that would one day rival Landmark cinema's around the country but would not rely on distributors like Miramax, Focus Features, Sony Classics, or other distributors that were clogging the distribution channel for low budget indie films.

The belief behind Sundance cinema complexes was that there was a large enough intelligent film going audience around the country, albeit niche, that would want to see films that never made it through the million dollar P&A distribution mill to see films like William's SPARK, James Gray's THE YARDS, Darren Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Jarmusch's DEAD MAN, or Todd Haynes VELVET GOLDMINE or edgy foreign-like pics such as Leon Ichaso's bio-pic PIñERO without suffering under the brutal and crushing investment pressures of an 600 or 1000 screen nationwide release. Having the Sundance brand might just bring audiences into the film complexes without huge media buys and expensive print roll outs.

However, the Sundance branding exercise came up against a number of painful obstacles. First, just as the Sundance Channel was about to unveil itself, a brisk rival arrived on the scene in the form of the Independent Film Channel. Second, while in the middle of construction of the cinema centers, GC collapsed and went into bankruptcy along with a number of other cinema chains. And third, Sundance tried to leap before it had a concrete plan of execution. Redford is known by friend and foe alike for his inability to execute due to his micro-management and controlling tendencies. Redford, a frustrated graphic designer and artist, would pick over the minute details of designing posters or film catalogues but was painfully remiss in returning phone calls from investors like Paul Allen who showed interest in expanding the Sundance brand to cable, cinema complexes and even digital channel distribution.

And while these concepts were being thrown up and poorly executed, films like SPARKS, THE YARDS, and others from the Sundance catalogue -- a "middle industry" if you will -- where never reaching an audience that might have returned a small margin of profit by blockbuster standards but still enriched the culture and language of cinema. Sundance had branched out in the attempt to broaden the exhibition opportunites beyond Miramax, Focus Features, and Sony Classics to the benefit of the undistributed indie. A noble quest but nothing like a conspiracy that nay-sayers like to paint Sundance with as a subversive element in the indie film culture.

Sunday, May 13, 2007



What many people think of today, when they imagine Sundance in January, are rented 4-wheel drive SUVs with darkened windows doubled parked on Main street; cell phones glued to the ears of studio execs running between screenings; starlets like Paris Hilton making appearances; designer bags of expensive swag for the stars; and distributors grabbing up films in a bidding frenzy at Park City diners. First, it hasn't always been this way; Second, a vast majority of the films at Sundance never win distribution; Third, since 1994 many films never reach to the bidding wars because they are bought before the film cans are shipped to Sundance.

But the halcyon days of Sundance, when the festival gained its reputation as the mighty staging ground for battles between indie distributors for niche markets films were 1996 and later. That year a film unreeled at Sundance and set the stage for a battle that came to fist-fighting, insults, firings and big cash buys for indie film. The film was SHINE, based on a true story, it told of a talented prodigy pianist David Helfgott played by Geoffrey Rush and directed by Scott Hicks. And like the Australian indie film to leap into Oscar contention the year before, THE PIANO, all the indie distributors hoped for Oscar statues to buoy the box office.

While some might say SHINE was a "coming of age" film it really isn't. It is film about the wages of genuis on the psychie of and individual given the grant of incredible talent. Helfgott does come of age during the second act of SHINE, however, it is the story of his entire life and Rush's performance is more about living adulthood with a mental alteration of personality due to his breakdown from stress. The pressure of constraining and fully utilizing a creative talent at it highest level of artisttry leads to the collapse of Helfgott.

At Sundance, Helfgott's dramatic story is analogous to the mental breakdown of Harvey Weinstein in trying to procure the film and failing. Indie film was becoming as much a phenomenon for its production and distribution backstories as for the dramas unreeling on screen. After Tony Safford left the staff of Sundance he eventually took up employment with the Weinstein brothers in acquisitions, giving him special entree at the festival for grabbing up new films by young talent -- or so the Weinsteins hoped.

In a bidding war that Fine Line Features finally won, Safford lost out, not because he wasn't in the game or willing to offer the last and highest bid for the film that brought everyone to tears during its festival screening -- even the hard-bitten agents and talent reps. Miramax lost because Jonathan Taplin, a former Bob Dylan roadie, who had been trying to sell the film to Miramax for more than a year simply wanted to screw Harvey out of the final bid. And who could blame Taupin, engaging in negiotation with Harvey or Bob Weinsteins made the invading parasite in ALIEN seem like an invited house guest by comparsion. Producer Taupin said to director Hicks, "I don't like Miramax, I don't like their arrogance, I don't like anything about them."

This battle for a clear pure breed high-stakes race horse of a film could have all been fought out in other arena's but it all came to a head at Sundance.

But the winds and market pressures of the previous five years were all building to this point of breaking. American Indie film had reached a profitable middle market where investors could realize a profit margin, albeit smaller than high risk box office busters, and with the purchase of Miramax by Disney and Ted Turner buying Fine Line, as well as the evolution of the "classics" or art house divisions of the majors, the stakes for buying hot indie properties increased. The January film festival in the mountains of Utah became the new staging ground for these distribution bidding wars.

Harvey lost his mind in rage after loosing SHINE. The 1996 festival would come to be called the "Ten Days That Shook the Indie World" named after the Russian revolution when the Czar was put out by the Bolsheviks. Castle Rock, the indie division of Warner's paid $10 million for that years festival winner CARE OF THE SPITFIRE GRILL that also got swooped up in the buying frenzy.

After Harvey pushed and punched his way with Taupin, shouted at women reps from other distribution companies using the "B-word" toward the women and almost took Safford's head off for loosing the SHINE film, Sundance was in for yet another shift in percpetion. More than these backroom bully-boy antics that caught the attention of film festival enthusiasts around the country, the purchase price for films at Sundance has escalated with all the studio's sending art house boutique divisions and the former independents Miramax by now owned by Disney, Fine Line now owned by Turner and October by Universal, the heat was turned up underneath sales but also the expectations for box office performance shifted.

Following this incident, Harvey became determined never to loose a bidding war at Sundance again. Miramax would win these wars by buying the films before they reached the festival and the next films Miramax would grab up THE ENGLISH PATIENT and SLING BLADE were acquired before they could reach the festival circuit. The mountaineous roads through Sundance were just too rocky and Miramax would not be the only indie distributor to finally realize this fact.

When the films SHINE and SPITFIRE GRILL failed to reach break even point and payback high bid driven prices, after all the commotion at Sundance, there was little sustained interest in paying inflated dollars the intense competition created. A less spoken truth about free markets is that intense competition among giants actually leads to price inflation and rising costs rather than efficiences as utopian business school economists would have us believe.

Again in the following years, instead of setting the terms of film and story aesthetics as well as picking winners, Sundance was a victim of a vasting shifting marketplace. Just as film critics are not good predictors of popular taste, film festivals like Sundance, were no longer seen as indicators of success for films in distribution. In the future, Geoffrey Gilmore would try to advise indie filmmakers not to sell their films prior to screening them at Sundance in hopes of inflaming Park City bidding wars but that time had passed and $10 million speaks much louder than Gilmore's advice deilvered in hushed tones to inexperienced filmmakers as Billy Bob Thorton would soon to learn with his film SLING BLADE.

Monday, May 07, 2007



The year 1994 was another big turning point for Sundance as the Geoffrey Gilmore era was further taking hold at Sundance. Three films David O. Russell's SPANKING THE MONKEY, Rose Troche's GO FISH and Kevin Smiths' CLERKS came forward as the emerging films in the newly market-like atmosphere of Sundance.

Sure, in years past there had been success with Sundance films SEX. LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE and RESERVOIR DOGS, however, neither film was picked up at Sundance and nobody had seen anything like the bidding wars that would come to typify the cinema lobbies, streets and cafe's of Park City in the mid and late 90s. Prior to 1994, filmmakers came to Utah out of a love for their film and a chance to screen it but never in hopes of striking it rich, hitting the lottery or even acquiring theatrical distribution.

Rose Troche's GO FISH and Kevin Smiths' CLERKS were small budget limited location talkie pics with a gritty urban sensibility that both seemed inspired by the storyless atmospheric films of Jim Jarmsuch and Richard Linklater. Yet, their tone, trajectory, and cultural perspective of each were vastly different. Smith recalls watching Linklater's SLACKERS in New York city and thinking, this guy is from Austin, Texas and I am watching his film and "I can do that" however, Smith's aimless and directless existential CLERKS is about New Jersey. SPANKING THE MONKEY is a mother-son incest film that few would claim was wrritten and made to inspire a distributors feeding-frenzy.

CLERKS had been screened at IFP's IFFM in New York the fall before and no one took interest but in the newly rarified and competitive atmosphere of Gilmore's Sundance Smith film caught the attention, almost to Pierson's surprise, of Harvey Weinstein who with fistfuls of Disney cash was buying up films at an all-you-can-eat-buffet eaters pace.

Christine Vachon and Tom Kalin teamed to bring the lesbian love story, that when reduced down, is about whether an attractive urbane lesbian is lonely enough to accept a frumpy, homely, and older lesbian as her girlfriend. Both Smith's CLERKS and Troche's GO FISH were being rep'd by John Pierson who tauntingly provoked indie distributors to buy the minimalist narratives. As Pierson, Weinstein, and Smith crossed the street to sit down and deal for CLERKS, Pierson shouted out to the reps from the other indies waiting outside the cinema, "This is your last chance" amkinf sure they knew Harvey was going to be soon sitting at their table.

Other indie distributors were also caught by surprise and worried that all the most viable product was being swept onto Harvey's newly enlarged plate. They too were jumping at films that might have been easily passed over a few years ago for the plotting and dismal lack of dramatic arch. But again, the market forces that made indie distributors like October, Miramax, Fine Line, and Goldwyn buy up small indies for a few hundred thousand and see only a few million in profit needed a place to call home and Sundance provided that farm league atmosphere and the competitive bidding began.

Pierson was able to tap this competition among suitors that year to also land a deal with Goldwyn for the distribution of GO FISH. Was there a new wave of Ameircan Indie filmmakers creating and entirely new marketplace? Was Sundance providing a staging place for indies to launch their previously unseen and unknown films that would have ended up in a box in their basements never to see the bulb in a movie theater? Was Sundance forcing indie filmmakers to make film tailored for sales at the sake of an independent and experiemntal vision?

If any aesthetic these films shared it was one of making a feature film on extremely limited budgets. CLERKS was filmed and edited for $27,000 on location in Smith's place of employment. After experiencing extraordinary success at Sundance and later joining the Miramax entourage at Cannes where Tarantino's PULP FICTION took home the Palm d'Or, Smith returned to his clerking job in New Jersey at the same convenience store where he shot the film CLERKS. To say the films and their stories were driven by the marketplace bidding wars at Sundance is to put the cart before the horse.

Thursday, May 03, 2007



And just when it seemed Sundance had turned the corner and begun embracing radical new ideas from the New Queer Cinema movement, another even less politically progressive statement emerged -- Quentin Tarantino, RESERVOIR DOGS and the pulp fiction aesthetic.

Quentin Tarantino is a brilliantly geeky throwback to a bygone era of violently gratuitous film and literature for which his masterful breakout film PULP FICTION is named. First and foremost, like his predecessors in pulp or detective fiction of the serie noire and weird menace schools, Tarantino is an inspired writer with defiant flair and tongue firmly in cheek.

Tarantino was born of an entirely new generation of VHS film enthusiasts who never went to film school (in fact, he never graduated from high school) and after simply and obsessively working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California. Tarantino and his friend Roger Avery (co-writer of PULP FICTION) watched, wrote and dreamed of making their own films. The video rental geeks fashioned their own graduate program in film by watching movies day-in and day-out. While Sundance was founded by a generation of film enthusiasts who were starved by the lack of access to film viewing (other than in revival cinema houses) the VHS generation grew up with the TV and VCR as their babysitters.

With Tarantino, violent films should be violent for violence sake. He never had time for the pretense of art house films. In fact, at a screening of RESERVOIR DOGS in Park City, when asked about the offensive nature of violence in his films, as if to spit in their face, Tarantino answered, he was offended by the pretentious beauty of Merchant and Ivory films. Afterall, despite the wealth of plenty, titles the video stores were primarily stocked with action and adventure, horror, kung-fu, and b-movies of the sensationalist vein. For Tarantion and Avery there were no classics of early cinema other than shoot-em ups, blood-and-horror, super-natural fight films, high-impact FX, and action and adventure and these movies shaped their world view.

In many ways, if Sundance embodied the indie spirit, it did so by bashing and breaking down paradigms. The b-side mentality that populated the most conservative state of Utah in January was always ready to confront, accuse, and shock you out of what you came to expect from Sundance itself. Tarantino brought back to Sundance the indie spirit embodied in Roger Corman from the early 1960s -- a visceral shock of the weird, sensational and objectly violent. Tarantino's aspirations for film were school-boyish, as he once told Allison Anders on a date he wanted to write a book about how to go to film festivals to get laid.

If you came to Sundance expecting crunchy granola films it gave you New Queer Cinema instead. If you came expecting Native American films it gave you the geeky LA white boy spouting the "n-word" in his scripts without any remorse or regret. If you expected the films to be safe uplifting toiling in the soil stories from the heartland it gave you POISON or sex, lies, and videotape instead.

For better or worse, American Indie film consists of rule breakers, outlaws, misfits and non-conformists to the movie industry standard. The twist Tarantino brought was of careless irony, his films were parodies of themselves and yet very much nothing more serious than the films they parodied.

In the year Tarantino brought RESERVOIR DOGS to Sundance, Alison Anders screened GAS, FOOD AND LODGING and Alexander Rockwell's IN THE SOUP also contended but Rockwell's SOUP about a down and out indie filmmaker played by Steve Buscemi unexpectedly took the top prize. Their films could not have been more different from each other in scope, if they'd met and planned them in advance.

In street cred terms, as an emerging filmmakers festival Sundance always had to deliver something each year that defied the logic of a trend. The festival was in a continual process of trying to reinvent itself and was able to do so because between the period of the mid to late 80s to the earl 90s the number of indie filmmakers sending their films to Sundance for consideration dramatically increased from a few hundred to thousands.

If anything is predictable about Sundance is the defiant spirit of the filmmakers who are outsiders to an insiders industry and want to make a statement.


In all my discussions about the American indie film festivals, people often like to throw out plithy statements that fail to appreciate the conplex history and evolution of the festival. And common recant among critics goes like this:


If anything Redford deserves a lot of credit for sticking with Sundance despite it's inability to serve his interests and follow the course he'd set for it aesthetically and politically. Often what conspiratorialists and simplistic paranoids fail to appreciate about the success of a cultural phenomenon that reaches critical mass is that as an organism its vitlaity often transcends individuals, supersedes best laid plans and takes on a life of its own far, far beyond the founding visions or masterminds behind them.

In order to maintain a pure conspiracy, there must be a vigorous denial of the truth and the truth behind Sundance is that it never had a cohesive plan that gelled into a controlled form of power. Redford could favor a film or a filmmaker, a script or a project but that never assured it of success either in the arena of Sundance itself or in the outside world of distribution, box office or financial success. Likewise, a filmmaker who saw success emerge from Sundance, Soderbergh for instance, could not easily return favor to Redford or any other minion or passionate loyalist in the Sundance family. As it should be in the world of dynamic and changing artistic expression, it's never that easy.

Before 1992 Sundance tried to promote a culture where artists could be protected from the mean and brutal world of business suits, lawyers, powerbrokers, shady dealers, and blood sucking bottom feeders. However, due to their open door practices and the onslaught of success the festival only served to attract these types more. What people fail to realize, is that the studio system in Hollywood, that everybody rebelled against for their creative survival, was originally established as a West Coast sanctuary for creative artists or, at least, the idea of it in the minds of Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Marcus Loew, William Fox, and Samuel Goldwyn, and all the studio bosses that proceded them. But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The years 1991 and 92 were big turning points for Sundance when its reputation shifted from the crunchy granola soft 70s-styled PCness that was in its founders hearts to what some would term the cell phone era. Did Sundance promote and conspire to create a "cell phone" culture ? -- No, the cell phone transformed Sundance at a time when it was at its weakest.

While in the midst of staff shake out and hugely changing times Sundance did NOT play it safe. In 1991 the New Queer Cinema movement arrived at Sundance with a young semotics deconstructionist from Brown named Todd Haynes and his producer Christine Vachon. This producer/director duo brought to the festival in Utah a film that was anything but safe called POISON. Haynes previous movie SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY had raised a considerable controversy, first with its funders in the Lynn Cheney NEA era, and then with Mattel the makers of Barbie doll. Haynes Karen Carpenter film has been banned in the U.S. but has become available on the internet. Haynes, with an artist grant support from the Jerome Foundation, and Vachon led a troop of new gay filmmakers with an activist agenda.

Greg Araki THE LIVING END, Tom Kalin, Christopher Munch's THE HOURS AND TIMES and the doc PARIS IS BURNING are all militant gay films that made the Lands End, dockers, and mountain boot Sundance establishment uneasy. Sure, Sundanistias could happily have their heart-strings pulled with films like PARTING GLANCES and enjoy the antics of a film like THE BIRDCAGE but POISON drove them from the theater in fear.

In one scene from POISON, men spit in each other's mouths, a horrifying evocation in the post-HIV trauma era of the early 1990s. More than just a shocking depiction of rape and violence (topics not commonly appearing on the Sundance screen in the early years), Haynes film intercuts three stories of completely different genre, one staged as a documentary to challenge the very conventions of film itself. While most film institutions and certainly the funders were narrowing their aesthetic to narrative "golden mean" storytelling, Haynes was producing avante-garde cinema one could only rarely see on folding chairs in dank warehouses below Canal street or in European cinematheques.

Haynes was experimental and an exception to the simple narrative trend in American indie film. While the expectations at Sundance that year were that Hal Hartnley's TRUST or Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST might take home the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance, the surprise was Hayne's shocking deconstructionist film POISON came away the winner and Vachon's thumbprint would stamp many Sudance seasons to come.

The Sundance of 1991 could not be termed safe and it radically shook the foundation and shifted the direction of the festival for the future.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


In the early 90s, just after the phenomenal success of SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, the administration of Sundance crumbled and many associated with the actor financed enterprise. Tony Safford left, there was much displeasure with the non-profit festival and institute and the for-profit resort and their symbiotic relationship. But more than anything else, people were asking what is the purpose of Sundance and why was Redford still funding it?


After almost sweeping the awards competition at Cannes, Steven Soderbergh returned to L.A. in hot demand. He agreed to be a poster boy for Sundance and let the festival take credit for being the world-wide launch pad for "sex, lies and videotape." For reasons of ego and money, not all filmmakers want to concede anything or give away credits to profit and especially non-profit development institutions whether they helped them or not. But Soderbergh, although he might come regret it later, was more giving than the average indie filmmaker toward Sundance and Redford.

And Robert Redford was actively courting Soderbergh for a film he wanted to make with Soderbergh called KING OF THE HILL. Even before Miramax released "sex lies and videotape" to sensational box office, Sodebergh was making arrangements to make his next films. He was happy to be talking with Redford, even hoped the generous A-list actor would become a mentor to his future career. But the young southerner was also talking with Pollack about making the biopic KAFKA and time frames are critical in packaging movies regardless if you are an rogue indie, a wannabee, or a Hollywood insider.

As many speculated at the time, it appeared Redford was using the developmental processes of Sundance Institute and launch pad of Sundance Film Festival to feather his own professional career. Many successful Hollywood actors found their own theater company but ultimately fail because of the conficts between personal interest and company concerns. Roping in Soderbergh was proof for some of Redford using the advantage of the non-profit for his own personal gain. While Sundance administration was in shambles, its mission and focus unclear and uncertain, his critics were certain Redford would ignore the needs of Sundance to make a deal for KING OF THE HILL.

The year after "sex, lies, and videotape" propelled Sundance forward despite staff defections, a new era was about to begin -- the Geoffrey Gilmore era. Two films highlighted the 1990 Sundance Festival: Charles Burnett's brilliant TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and the winner of the Filmmakers Trophy Hudlin Brother's HOUSE PARTY. These two films could not have had more opposite fates in theatrical distribution. Yet, the so-called "bidding wars" that would later come to typlify the atmosphere of Sundance had not come to the street cafes of Park City. "sex, lies" did not get picked up at Sundance and the Hudlin Brothers sold their house party dance movie at Toronto.

If for nothing else, as pundants and prognosticators would try to easily but wrongfully suggest, a Sundance "aesthetic" had still not emerged and Redford's professional interests in KING OF THE HILL were seemingly dashed as Soderberg picked KAFA (1991) to go into production rather than KING OF THE HILL (1993) much to Redford's displeasure. In the evolution of Sundance, 1990 was still a difficult adjustment year and one Redford had to bound through with no assurance of success for either the profit or non-profit aspects of his personal commitment to the concept of a mountain-side film development institute and American indie festival.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Over the years I managed to have many arguments with filmmakers and enthusiasts about the power and influence of the Sundance Film Festival on independent film in the U.S. A couple of weeks back, after spending a few happy and nostalgic days with John and Janet Pierson of Austin, Texas I was reminded of the early years of Sundance and its effect on American indie film.

While observations of Sundance are passionate, others acute and perceptive, most are filtered through a lens of different myths that surround the institute and festival either by envious outsiders or insiders who engaged in a battle for the heart and soul of what they felt the festival should stand for and lost.


In the very beginning, Redford wanted the Sundance Institute and festival to feature regional character drama's with a political statement both in the Institute's development process and with the U.S Film Festival (as it was called before becoming Sundance). Redford had a soft spot for identity films, especially dealing with issues in the Native American community out west and environmetnal issues.

The first films to emerge from the Sundnace Institute were EL NORTE, THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ, HEARTLAND and the first films to win awards at the U.S. Film Festival Park City were WAITING FOR THE MOON a film that bitterly accounts the lesbian love between Alice B. Toklas and Getrude Stein. None of the films Redford wanted to push out into the world fit either stereotype of "coming of age" or "Hollywood wannabees". In some circles, they would say, if you wanted to act in a Sundance movie to had to be able to wear bib overalls.

Michelle Satter, who was one of the early employees at the Institute responsible for feature film development said, the Institute did not have a political censoring mechanism but it did have a stylistic one. The approach to formal filmmaking, following a Aristotelian golden mean and three act story structure was extremely conservative. Other Sundance employees like Tony Safford felt in the mid and late 80s, Sundance had missed the boat, when most of the greatest new American filmmakers being crowned at the Cannes Festival in France.

If anything, the early years of the Sundance Institute and festival defined its own stereotype of being what we called at the time "crunchy granola" films. In the arena of Native American films, Sundance championed Jonathan Wach's POWWOW HIGHWAY.

Many will argue Sundance had a aesthetic set by Redford or Sundance film family members like Annick Smith who made HEARTLAND a politically correct version of western drama that lionized the little man. However, soon Smith would be out of the sphere of influence that at the beginning propelled its programming forward. First, to others it was clear these films with a "content" driven agenda would soon give way to an author driven agenda.

But it should come as no surprise films like Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING, Gus Van Zant's DRUGSTORE COWBOY, the Coen's Brothers BLOOD SIMPLE, Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE, John Water's HAIRSPRAY or documentary fillmakers Errol Morris' THIN BLUE LINE and Michael Moore's ROGER & ME were completely absent from the Sundance obit -- they never received Institute backing and were never screened in the mountain side festival. As Safford commented, Sundance missed the boat on the title wave of new American independent filmmakers who redefined the film industry after the studio system fell apart in the middle 1980s.

That new less politically correct face of Sundance arrived in January 1989 when Steven Soderbergh arrived with SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE shot in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. The slacker aesthetic of sex, lies and videotape wasn't a politically correct western drama, nor a Native American sufferage film -- it defied the angry indie films that emerged from the 60s. The film would be Sundance's first big hit. It subject was neither coming of age or a hollywood wannabee with a perverted sex tape maker who masturbates to his tapes of women "talking" about sex.

Just as likely, you will find people from that time argue that Sundance was not setting the agenda of the indie film community as much as following it and falling prey to it. Much bigger winds were blowing in the industry in the mid and late 1980s and Sundance became caught in them just like everybody else. Films were less often being made for a theatrical release in movie houses owned by the studios and more for direct to video and other ancillary markets. In fact, the ancillary markets were driving film to a much larger extent than the theatrical market. This gave indies an inside track to get around the studios. It was the VHR and home viewing of movies that would drive the new aesthetic not the much ballyhooed but mythic dominance of Redford's Sundance.

Sundance Institute and what was to become Sundance Film Festival struggled for nearly 10 years with a continuous lack of success. In the realm of independent film, it barely held a candle to Telluride and certainly nothing like the New York Film Festival, Cannes, Berlin or Toronto.

Yet, against all probability Sundance, nestled in a difficult and inaccessible second-rate ski resort corner of the Rocky Mountains would come to play a large role in the indie film movement even though it came late to the game and did not have success until the 1990s.

Monday, February 12, 2007


After we faced the prospect last year about this time of the Oak Street Cinema closing, the staff of Minnesota Film Arts (MFA) being let go and possibly the complete loss of our 25 plus years of Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival the picture looked grim. Was the writing on the wall?

The fact the dismall prognosis was being written all over the country, not just here in Minnesota. Brian Newman, a New York media center visionary could see the furure and it looked grim for non-profit media arts organizations around the country. AIVF was failing. And a whole bunch of revival house cinemas were closing. The IFP national franchise was breaking apart, chapters closing, and they were all changing their names in the attempt to break from past identities and feuding that has plagued them in recent years. Here in Minnesota former rivals at Oak Street and UFilm become partners were now biting at each others throats, exchanging accusations and, come on let's admit it, they were throwing snowballs at each other over in Dinkytown at the Varsity Theater community meeting on the future of MFA! Not a pretty sight.

And I remember the day Chuck Olson walked in the door at IFP and proclaimed, "It has never been better for indie makers!"

While these old venerated institutions in the media arts community were facing either renewal or death, out there in the ether(net) new horizons await for those who are not embroiled in these old battles. Chuck Olson can see it. Juan Antonio and Cristina "the Chasing Windmill" folks can see it. How will the community adapt?

Yes, it is time for the media artists to embrace the future and think seriously about how we do things together. How we create. How we collaborate. The places from where production orignates and the destination where our works are going. The phrase I keep hearing over and over is the train has already left the station and is speeding down the tracks. Either we get on the train or let it pass us by.

There is no lack of quality talent in Minnesota. Or as entertainment attorney Dan Satorius says, there is plenty of talent here and quite probably more than in Austin, Portland, or Miami. In Texas they point to Ethan Hawk, Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez as the talented triad that built the city into one of the leading indie film centers in the nation. Our list is longer.

But the train is running down the track and the future leaders in the indie film movement are not cutting super 8 films with razor blades and hot gluing the splices together like Linklater did with his first film. All the rules are changing and they are sweeping the media industry. More and more, we are seeing a convergence of artistic sensibilities as well as mediums and technologies. Nobody can avoid it or if they do they will run the risk of wasting up on the shore like dead fish with mercury poison.

Film distribution is changing. Film production is changing. Film itself has changed.

And thus, if you look at the old models and notions of "media access centers" and "revival house cinema" we are in the midst of a radical revolution in culture. If you look at the constituency of 40-year-old plus who used to be the patrons of the old non-profit cinema you will see them installing home theaters in their basement or rec room and a collection of classic movies that rival Ted Turner.

If you look at the generation of 20-somethings, their media viewing experiences have been completely transformed and the idea of "media access" is ancient if not unknown to them. The kids edit their films on their Powerbooks. Given them a free editing bench somewhere and they would rather say home and do it.

In this light the leadership in the media industry need to re-examin their charters and purpose and reinvent their methods.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Minneapolis based production company headed by Bill Pohlad, River Road Entertainment, lands in Park City Utah for the annual Sundance Film Festival touting its new film CHICAGO 10. Producers Pohald and Laura Bickford have backed this unique treatment in film of the historical Chicago uprising by writer/director Brett Morgen.

The Chicago 7 trial was a crowning moment of the 1960s anti-war movement, when after the riots in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, a group of eight went on trial before Judge Julius Hoffman represented by William Kunstler. The two men to emerge from the trial Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin became the Yippie counter-cultural icons of the era.

Morgen explained the originally charged Chicago 8 are joined by two lawyers as defendents in the trial because of the frequency in which they were held for "contempt of court" amounting to years of sentences of their counrtroom antics even though they were never charged in the original counts.

Morgen previous art house success THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE also appealed to a young smart hipster group that might be the audience target of this look back at their counterparts of 40 years ago. The film uses motion-capture rotoscope animation and archival photographs to recreate courtroom antics with voice characterization of Abbie Hoffman (Hank Azaria) and Jerry Rubin (Mark Ruffulo). While Morgen was born in 1968, he does not dwell to heavily on a labored account of history and seeks parallels between the Vietnam era and our war time culture of today.

As Morgen focuses most of his attention on Hoffman and Rubin, the most theatrical of the original eight defendents, he runs the risk of missing the more interesting stories posed in thsi drama by equally infamous defendents Tom Hayden, Bobbie Seale, Rennie Davis and David Dellinger.

The documentary film opened the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.