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A movable festival

A film series that will send four less-known movies to 10 major cities seeks to replicate the Sundance spirit.

August 26, 2003|Andre Chautard | Special to The Times

Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford says many outstanding independent films screen at Sundance each year that receive only extremely limited distribution -- or none at all -- because they are not easily marketable.

"There are films out there that are absolutely worth seeing," he says.

To help some of those films reach a wider audience, as well as to take a slice of the Sundance experience to those outside Park City, Utah, the inaugural Sundance Film Series is bringing a slate of four films to 10 major cities, beginning Friday with "The Other Side of the Bed," a musical bedroom farce from Spain. Each film will play for two weeks at a Loews Cineplex theater in each city, longer if audiences are large enough. In addition to Los Angeles and New York, the cities are San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit and Seattle.

"We're taking films that were either missed in the marketplace or bypassed for whatever reasons ...," Redford says. "We're simply saying, 'Let the audiences have a chance to see this is what's out there.' "

The other films in the series are "In This World" (opening Sept. 19), Michael Winterbottom's documentary-style account of two Afghan refugees; "Dopamine" (Oct. 10), a philosophical romance from first-time writer-director Mark Decena; and "Die Mommie Die!" (Oct. 31), an affectionate sendup of classic Hollywood melodramas, based on a play by Charles Busch.

After their theatrical runs, the films will be released on video and DVD through Sundance Channel Home Entertainment and will later play on Sundance Channel.

The series recalls the Shooting Gallery Film Series of a few years ago that notably nurtured "Croupier" into a breakout independent hit that grossed $6.2 million. But Redford says the Sundance Film Series is more an outgrowth of the festival and the aborted plan for a chain of Sundance Cinemas, which was announced in 1997 but fell apart when partner General Cinemas filed for bankruptcy in 2000. With the exhibition business in turmoil, other investors were scarce.

Sundance Channel, which put together the series, recruited four corporate sponsors -- Coca-Cola, Entertainment Weekly, Kenneth Cole and Volkswagen -- who will cover marketing costs for the films. Paula Freccero, senior vice president of film programming for Sundance Channel, estimates that, along with the promotional efforts of Loews, it will be the equivalent of a $3-million to $5-million advertising campaign for each film, much larger than these films would usually be given by a boutique distributor.

To encourage moviegoers to regard the four films as a series, Loews is selling "4-Pack" series passes at a 30% discount off the regular admission price that will be valid at any showing during the two-week run of each film, subject to seating availability.

Series' site in L.A. area

In Los Angeles, the series will play at the Loews Cineplex Beverly Center, where the films will play in one of the multiplex's two larger theaters at least for the first week. The filmmakers will travel to as many cities playing the series as they can, and instead of the usual 15 minutes of advertising and trailers for upcoming films, there will be a five-minute pre-show of commercials from the Sundance Film Series sponsors and a taped introduction by the filmmakers in which they elaborate on their films much as they would at a festival.

"The mantra from Robert Redford has been, 'Wherever possible, let's try to replicate the festival experience,' " says Larry Aidem, president and CEO of Sundance Channel. To further distinguish the series in multiplexes, theater managers will personally introduce the films, Kenneth Cole will outfit some of the theater staff and a separate waiting area will be set up for those holding series tickets.

If any of the films click during their two-week run, Sundance Channel and Loews will offer additional advertising support and extend the run in the initial 10 cities or expand into more, even into theaters other than Loews.

"We're going to be very flexible," says Loews Cineplex Theatres president and CEO Travis Reid, who also notes that Loews is offering a "filmmaker-friendly" distributor-exhibitor split on the box office with Sundance. Freccero says any profits in the first two weeks will be split between the filmmakers and the not-for-profit Sundance Institute; the sponsors and the for-profit Sundance Channel will not collect any money.

Where normally a distributor would deduct advertising costs before turning over profits, here "the filmmakers are going to make money off of the box office essentially from dollar one," Freccero says. In programming the series, Sundance Channel wanted to represent the diversity of what is screened at the festival. "There was nothing really that was off-limits -- foreign-language, documentary, feature," Freccero says.

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