Cooper, Saldana, Weinstein Dance the Indie Film Dance in Park City
Photo: Sonia Recchia/Getty Images
It wasn't so calm and quiet last Saturday, when a blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow on the Utah ski mecca and created Snowdance. That wouldn't have been a problem if filmmakers, publicists, stars, festival-goers, and the rest had understood that snow down means slow down. Over at the MARC Theater, where "This Must Be the Place" premiered, Harvey Weinstein howled at his minions because star Sean Penn was not in the house, despite having gotten in his car 90 minutes before. Where was he? Stuck in the serpentine traffic with everybody else.
There was also an elegiac feeling on the opening weekend as longtime indie behind-the-scenes giant Bingham Ray unexpectedly succumbed to a series of strokes at the age of 57. The man behind October Films and such movies as Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" and Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies" had touched many lives at the festival, including that of longtime honcho Robert Redford. Ray worked tirelessly over the last three decades to advance independent films. His death also had a symbolic meaning: The festival that started in the '80s for young turks fighting against the Hollywood machine has now reached middle age. Its champions are as likely to be turning 60 at the festival as they are to be arriving for the first time with a debut film made on their parents' credit cards and crashing in someone's overcrowded condo.
Also heading to the hospital was Tracy Morgan, co-star of "Predisposed." The film's co-director and co-writer Ron Nyswaner ("Philadelphia"), who accompanied Morgan, told Yahoo! that rumors of partying were exaggerations; Morgan is sober. He's also a diabetic with a transplanted kidney, and the combination of the high altitude and exhaustion precipitated the collapse. Morgan has now returned to the New York set of "30 Rock."
Significantly healthier were sales at this year's festival. Fox Searchlight snapped up "The Surrogate" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Sony Pictures Classics bought "Celeste and Jesse Forever" and the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man." Focus Features bought "For a Good Time, Call ...," and Millennium Entertainment bought the paranormal thriller "Red Lights." Sales continue to roll out, but there's a new conservatism in the bidding as deals in previous years were as likely to go bust as they were to boom. For example, when Focus Features bought "The Kids Are All Right" in 2010 for under $5 million, the film went on to gross over $20 million and received four Oscar nominations. But their 2011 bargain, "Pariah," at less than $1 million, has generated only around $400,000 at the box office thus far, little buzz in the crowded awards season, and two Independent Spirit nominations.