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Sundance Gold, Real World Blues: Scott Foundas in LA Weekly

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Scott Foundas writes of the coulda, shoulda, woulda world of those filmmakers whose Sundance acclaim didn’t catapult them into the big time. Or even a steady gig. Here’s the stats:

Of the 290 dramatic features that played at Sundance between 1984 and 2002 (the last year it seemed prudent to include in this survey, given the amount of time it can take to set up an indie film), 156 of their directors have gone on to make zero or, at the most, one additional dramatic feature.

In his LA Weekly piece, Foundas recounts the cautionary tale of Gary Walkow, who’ll show his latest work, Crashing, at Slamdance. Walkow, who has more than his fair share of bad luck for one lifetime, had a festival hit, The Trouble With Dick, sold it to a small company who folded before releasing the film. And then he made another film, went to Sundance, and watched the heavy-hitters engage in a bidding war over Shine. And he’s doing this again.


But the stories of his other two examples, Jill Godmilow and Joyce Chopra, aren’t as compelling. Godmilow teaches film production, makes earnest non-fiction films that no one wants to see and has gloomy thoughts about her students, their debts, and their meaningless empty lives:

You’ve basically got to walk into a cubicle the day you graduate and start paying that debt off until you’re 45.

Some would call those people “an audience”. Her bad luck came in the form of Robert Altman, who picked up the option to Raymond Carver’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, after Godmilow was unable to raise the money for her film version. So, she stopped trying.

Joyce Chopra, who’s frankly lucky to have had a career working in network TV after making Smooth Talk for PBS, wants to make a reunion picture with the original stars, Laura Dern and Treat Williams, but can’t raise the money.

What’s missing from the piece are the tales of those who weren’t big hits first time at Sundance, but went on to actual careers, like producer Christine Vachon–or maybe that’s another piece. There’s also some doom and gloom from another film guy turned academic who sees no chance for YouTube auteurs to go mainstream.

Welkow keeps on writing every day, but the other two would rather whine, it seems. Back in the past, Sundance was a more rarified atmosphere, where the potential box office of a film didn’t matter. But it’s show business, and those who forget that aren’t going to get more than a plaque and an air kiss.

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