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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Buzz at the fest doesn't promise the rest

Some films from the class of '07 found fame and fortune. Others are still waiting.

January 18, 2008|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

What a difference a year makes -- especially when it comes to the Sundance Film Festival's class of official '07 entries. Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore may have called 2007 a "landmark" in terms of frenzied acquisitions, but the crop of indie movies that premiered then has gone on to meet wildly divergent fates.

There have been some hits, nonstarters and misses in an era of shrinking audiences and declining revenue for the type of art-house fare synonymous with Sundance. Worse still, 2007's most sensational entry was never bought despite an overwhelming din of early buzz.

Heading into this year's Sundance, a look at the recent past enforces the idea that a festival pedigree doesn't guarantee a happy ending in and of itself.

"As a filmmaker, it's a real validation because Sundance has a reputation for movies that are personal and passionate and come from the heart," said director Ian Iqbal Rashid, whose "How She Move" was nominated for a jury prize last year and is set for release Jan. 25. "Then you get there and get into all the bidding wars, and you realize all films eventually become commodities."

"Hounddog"

Then: Arguably the most talked-about film in the 2007 festival, "Hounddog" presents the brutal coming-of-age story of a preteen girl in '50s rural Alabama. It came to be known around Park City, Utah, however, as "the Dakota Fanning rape movie" for a controversial scene involving the then 12-year-old actress and an older boy that drew criticism from groups including the Christian Film & Television Commission.

Now: Reactions at the festival ranged from excitement to dismay to apathy, and "Hounddog" has yet to find a distributor. Further, Fanning hasn't been seen on-screen since, leaving industry observers to wonder if the succes de scandale was worth its potential long-term effect on her career.

"Under the Same Moon" (La Misma Luna)

Then: After nine hours of haggling, executives from five studios bid the price of the heartwarming family film/illegal immigration drama to $5 million -- a record for a Spanish-language indie.

Now: Bought in a joint partnership by the Weinstein Co and Fox Searchlight, the movie will reach theaters March 21.

"The Savages" and "Waitress"

Then: "The Savages," featuring the indie dream team of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as a brother and sister forced to care for an ailing yet emotionally remote father, and the romantic dramedy "Waitress," written and directed by Adrienne Shelly -- who was killed before the film reached Sundance -- seemed to be on the tip of every other festivalgoer's tongue.

Now: Released in late November to similarly rapturous critical hosannas, "The Savages" has grossed $3 million and received four Independent Spirit Award nominations. "Waitress," meanwhile, became a modest hit for Fox Searchlight, grossing $19 million since its May release.

"No End in Sight"

Then: Director Charles Ferguson's critical documentary (detailing Bush administration missteps in the buildup to war in Iraq) won the fest's Special Jury Prize for Documentaries.

Now: Since its July release, the film has taken in only about $1.1 million but was named one of 15 films on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' documentary feature Oscar shortlist.

"Son of Rambow"

Then: The biggest acquisition at Sundance '07, this British coming-of-age story about a boy from a strict family whose paradigm shifts when he sees "First Blood," sold to Paramount Vantage for $7.5 million.

Now: After getting bogged down by legal imbroglios involving usage of "First Blood's" title and footage, "Rambow" is set for a May release.

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chris.lee@latimes.com

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