The Sundance Film Festival is infamously where relatively unknown filmmakers travel to Park City and maybe leave the mountain resort on the road to glory. But this year may have more well-known names swaggering down Main Street with projects than in recent years. Here’s a snapshot of the film famous you’ll be hearing about at Sundance and why:
SPIKE LEE, director/producer, Red Hook Summer – Spike has a long history going in and out of the studio system and hitting the pavement at Sundance where he returns with his latest. The director often laments how difficult it is to get money for projects despite making $300 million on Inside Man. Fast forward several documentaries later, and Lee picks up the feature filmmaking mantle again about an Atlanta boy who is sent to spend the summer in a Brooklyn NY housing project with the grandfather he’s never met. With all titles screening in the festival’s Premieres section headed to Sundance without a distributor in place, Lee is once again counting on his indie roots for this pic.
JULIE DELPY, writer/director/star, 2 Days In New York – Delpy opened the Sundance Film Festival with Before Sunrise way back in 1995. Now she returns with 2 Days In New York – a follow up to 2007’s 2 Days In Paris. Delpy took her recent films including 2 Days In Paris to Berlin for their debuts, but is headed to Sundance with the latest. The film has sold some international territories already and the feature’s American setting is ripe for a Sundance splash, according to the film’s sales company Rezo. In no small part due to star Chris Rock who plays opposite Delpy. In the film, Delpy reprises her 2 Days In Paris character Marion who lives with her new lover Mingus (Rock) and their two kids from previous relationships. The couple get an unexpected visit from her father (played by Delpy’s real-life dad), her oversexed sister, and her outrageous boyfriend.
STEPHEN FREARS, director Lay The Favorite – You would think two Oscar nominations for Best Director not to mention multiple Awards for 2006’s The Queen (including a win for actress Helen Mirren) would mean a golden ticket for future projects and a studio backer. But such is not the case anymore and Frears will join fellow filmmakers vying for distribution at Sundance. Pic has a well-known cast including Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, and Joshua Jackson. This latest follows a beautiful but ditzy gal who moves to Las Vegas and meets a pro sports gambler who hones in on her natural skills for numbers to his advantage.
MICHAEL STIPE, executive producer, Me@ The Zoo – The former R.E.M. front man has his hand in film for decades now, most prominently beginning in the late 1990s as executive producer of Velvet Goldmine and producer of multiple Oscar-nominee Being John Malkovich. Ubiquitous at Sundance in the early part of the 2000s, his last big project there was 2004’s Saved via his Single Cell Pictures. His other production company C-Hundred Film Corp (with filmmaker Jim McKay) is taking Me @ The Zoo to Sundance this year where it is screening in competition. The film follows video blogger Chris Crocker whose YouTube plea “Leave Britney Alone!” has been viewed gazillion times.
TOM COLICCHIO, executive producer of Finding North – The Top Chef judge dons an executive producer hat for this film, produced by Participant Media, which focuses on hunger in America. The film features the human stories behind the statistics and directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush (Colicchio’s wife) explores possible solutions. Colicchio’s Craft restaurants are involved with the Share Our Strength charity which fights hunger, so this turn at producing may be a one-off and not a sign he’s trading the kitchen for the camera.
WILL FERRELL, producer of Bachelorette and Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie – Ferrell saw his fortunes take a downturn with Everything Must Go in 2010 and several films before then. He’s perhaps looking for a resurrection with two films at the festival this year. Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, a comedy in which he also appears, is by Tim Heidercker and Eric Wareheim and being released by Magnolia Pictures. It follows two guys who get a billion dollars to make a movie but things head south and they attempt to revitalize their fortunes by taking on a failing shopping mall. Bachelorette with Kirsten Dunst is produced by Will Ferrell’s and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions based on an off-Broadway play which producing partner Jessica Elbaum saw in New York and then brought the story to the production company. Contrary to initial chatter it’s not the “indie Bridesmaids” — but about how “women can hate themselves,” according to an insider.
PETER JACKSON, producer West of Memphis – The Lord Of The Rings director currently filming The Hobbit has long been part of the cadre of celebs (including the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) who have taken on the cause of the ‘West Memphis 3’ made famous by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s three-part Paradise Lost doc series. Now released from death row by the state following a face-saving legal maneuver, Damien Echols was recently invited by Jackson to New Zealand. (FYI, Jackson said Echols is not working on the film despite chatter). Directed by Amy Berg and screening in Sundance’s Documentary Premieres, this is a new take on a 20-year-old case that gripped Arkansas and then the country. [Watch for Deadline Film Editor Mike Fleming’s upcoming interview with Peter Jackson.]
PAUL GIAMATTI, actor/executive producer, John Dies At The End – With a starring role, frequent Oscar and Emmy nominee Paul Giamatti is lending his producing prowess to this film directed by Don Coscarelli. The project has its roots in a web serial that became an internet sensation. Screening in Park City at Midnight, the film follows a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold their jobs but find themselves in the unusual position of saving mankind from an otherworldly invader.
ICE-T, director/executive producer, Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap – The rapper and Law & Order: SVU actor takes on the director role for this doc (co-directed with Andy Baybutt) which spotlights a music form he credits with saving his life. Something From Nothing cuts through the bling exterior of rap, traveling across the U.S. speaking intimately with Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Nas, Mos Def, Eminem, Chuck D, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and more. Ice-T is undoubtedly hoping this film will be the harbinger of rap.