Guild camera teams climb the steep and slippery slope of indie film success at Sundance 2011

Another January means another schlep up to higher ground, literally and metaphorically, as the Sundance Film Festival kicks off January 21-30 in the snow-covered hills of Park City, Utah. As in years past, a large contingent of Local 600 shooters will be making the pilgrimage all independent filmmakers dream about; seeing their work unfurl for the first time alongside the film world’s most passionate audiences. Critics, distributors, exhibitors, producers, agents, managers, colleagues, family and just plain old movie fans pack Park City’s quirky venues (libraries, health clubs, hotel meeting rooms) every year for this amazing concentration of cinematic storytelling; just to be accepted to Sundance is an honor all ICG filmmakers cherish. Like Michael McDonough, whose film, Winter’s Bone, snagged the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize last year, and is now back with a micro-budget Guild-shot drama, appropriately titled Higher Ground. Generation NEXT DP Rob Hauer (profiled in December ICG), who has screened four short Sundance films in years past, will also be ascending to new heights this year with Benavides Born, an indie feature Hauer shot that was accepted to the festival’s prestigious Dramatic Competition. “Short films at Sundance are always an honor and a first feature in competition is a sought after stepping stone,” Hauer observes about his first time in the main event. “There are so many influential eyes viewing the work there that I can’t help but be excited about new scripts and future collaborations.”

(Note: this listing was compiled with information supplied by Local 600 members and via online resources prior to the start of the festival. We are not responsible for omissions of names not provided to by posting date)


Benavides Born / Sundance Press Office/Noam Christopher


Benavides Born – Cinematographer Rob Hauer (see ICG December 2010 Generation NEXT) shot this indie feature, directed by Amy Wendel, about a high school senior who earns admission to the University of Texas at Austin but can’t afford to go. Her one shot is a scholarship for winning the State Powerlifting Championship.


Circumstance / Courtesy of Brian Rigney Hubbard

Circumstance – Brian Rigney Hubbard shot this drama about a wealthy Iranian family struggling to contain a teenager’s growing sexual rebellion and her brother’s dangerous obsession. Directed by Mayram Keshavarz on location in Beirut, Lebanon.

Higher Ground / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office


Higher Ground – The directing debut of actress Vera Farmiga centers on a frustrated young mother (Farmiga) who turns to a fundamentalist community for answers. After years of dogma and loss, she must find the courage to ask the questions that will help her reclaim her life. Shot by Michael McDonough on a micro budget in upstate New York with the RED M-X system. The Local 600 crew included A-camera operator Jeffrey Dutemple, 1st AC Nate Slevin, 2nd AC Nadine Martinez, B-camera operator Manuel Billeter, and B-camera 2nd AC James Daly.

Homework / Sundance Press Office/Mark Schafer


Homework –David Isern handled Steadicam and operator duties on this quirky romantic comedy about a boy named George (Freddie Highmore), whose only ambition in life is to cut his next class until the perfect girl (Emma Roberts) comes along. Brooklyn-based cinematographer Jay Feather contributed additional photography to the story, written and directed by Gavin Wiesen and shot on New York City-area locations.

The Ledge / Photo by Cook Allender


The Ledge – Sundance veteran Bobby Bukowski shot this thriller in which a battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist escalates into a lethal war of wills. Lensed in Baton Rouge, LA, the Local 600 crew included 1st AC Neil Chartier, 2nd AC Traci Chappell, Steadicam operator Josh Harrison, and still photographer Cook Allender. Yaron Levy was the 2nd Unit DP, and Hilda Mercado contributed additional photography.

Terri – Cinematographer Tobias Datum shot this comedy from Sundance alumnus Azazel Jacobs about an alienated high school student whose friendship with the vice-principal (John C. Reilly) sparks an awakening to the possibilities of life. The Local 600 crew included Steadicam operator Blea Trutz, and ACs Lawrence Montemayor and Alexandra Weiss.


Hot Coffee – Directed by Susan Saladoff and shot by Martina Radwan, with additional cinematography by Laela Kilbourn, this searing documentary follows four subjects whose lives have been devastated by their inability to access the U.S. justice system. Using the now-infamous legal battle over the famous McDonald’s coffee case as a springboard, Saladoff exposes the way corporations have spent millions distorting this case to promote tort reform.

The Last Mountain / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office/Vivian Stockman


The Last Mountain – Local 600 member Stephen McCarthy was one of three shooters on this documentary about the fight for the last great mountain in the Appalachian heartland. A mining giant that wants to explode it for the coal within is pitted against the local community that wants to preserve the mountain and build a wind farm on its ridges. With Robert Kennedy, Jr. enlisted as a passionate force for preserving Coal River Mountain and the economic and political power of the fossil fuel industry twisting democracy to its advantage, The Last Mountain highlights a battle for the future of American energy.

Miss Representation / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office


Miss Representation – ICG members Norman Bonney and Nicole Hirsch Whitaker were among five different cinematographers who contributed to this film that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, and challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman. Directed and co-written by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

Sing Your Song – Cinematographer Peter Pilafian was one of several DPs on this documentary, directed by Susanne Rostock, about Harry Belafonte. The longtime entertainer made significant contributions and took a leadership role in the civil rights movement in America and in achieving social justice on a global level.

Troubadors / Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker


Troubadours – Arlene Nelson co-shot this musical journey (with archival photographs taken by Kim Gottlieb-Walker) from filmmaker Morgan Neville that traces the lives and careers of James Taylor and Carole King, pillars of the California singer/songwriter scene, which converged in and around the famed Troubadour Club, in West Hollywood, CA in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


The Convincer / Photo by Wilson Webb


The Convincer – Local 600 members who worked on this Super 35mm feature, shot in Minnesota, included Steve Speers, Cole Koehler and Michael Lindquist, with additional photography by Julio Macat and unit stills by Wilson Webb. Jill Sprecher directed (and co-wrote with her sister Karen) this story about an insurance salesman’s search for a rare musical instrument and the dramatic series of consequences that ensues. Stars Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin.

The Details / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office


The Details – When a family of raccoons discover worms living underneath the sod in a suburban backyard, the pest problem begins a darkly comic and wild chain reaction of domestic tension, infidelity and murder. This Seattle-based film, which stars Elizabeth Banks, Tobey Maguire and Ray Liotta, had an ICG crew that included cinematographer Sharone Meir, camera operator Mark L. Anderson, and ACs Ronnie Dennis, Karen Korn, and James Schlittenhart.

Flypaper / Photo by Alan Markfield


Flypaper – Local 600 President Steven Poster, ASC, shot this indie film, set in Louisiana, about two gangs who try to rob the same bank at the same time, and a clever hostage trapped in the middle who must save the day. Directed by Rob Minkoff, the all-star cast includes Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer, Jeffrey Tambor, and Tim Blake Nelson. Local 600 members included camera operators Paolo Cascio and Josh Harrison, 1st AC – A-camera Neil Chartier, 2nd AC  – A-camera Traci Chappell, 1st AC – B-camera Dean Simmon, 2nd AC – B-camera – Lisa Long, Technocrane operator Patrick Barnes, digital loader Matthew Kelly Jackson, Local 600 Secretary-Treasurer and D.I.T. Alan Gitlin, 2nd Unit cinematographer Yaron Levy, and still photographer Alan Markfield.

I Melt With You – Commercial DP Eric Schmidt lensed this dark thriller about a group of four friends who gather every year to celebrate their friendship, and must unexpectedly confront a forgotten promise they made 25 years ago. Co-written and directed by Sundance veteran Mark Pellington (One Hour Photo).

Margin Call / Photo by JoJo Whilden


Margin Call – Frank DeMarco used the RED ONE M-X camera to capture this drama about a group of key people at an investment bank struggling (over a 24-hour period) to handle an emergency business situation during the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci, and written and directed by JC Chandor. The Local 600 camera team included operator Todd Armitage, A-camera 1st AC Robert Lau, B-camera 1st AC Jamie Marlowe, D.I.T. Keith Putnam, and still photographer JoJo Whilden.

The Music Never Stopped / Photo by Phillip Caruso


The Music Never Stopped – Stephen Kazmierski shot this powerful film, based on a story by neurologist Oliver Sacks, about a father who struggles to bond with his estranged son suffering from a brain tumor that prevents him from forming new memories. He learns to embrace his son’s choices and to try to connect with him through the power of music. Shot on location in New York, the all Guild camera crew included A-camera operator Chris Reynolds, B-camera operator Jon Delgado, Steadicam operator Jeff Muhlstock. Ethan Borsuk was the A-camera 1st AC, Dan Merrill was the A-camera 2nd AC, J. Eric Camp was the show’s D.I.T., and Phillip Caruso handled unit stills.

My Idiot Brother / Photo by Nicole Rivelli


My Idiot Brother – Yaron Orbach shot this comedy from director Jesse Peretz about a recently-released-from-jail pot dealer (Paul Rudd), who moves in with each of his three sisters as he tries to get back on his feet. His best intentions quickly bring the family to the cusp of chaos and, ultimately, the brink of clarity. Lensed on the RED ONE M-X system with a Local 600 team that included D.I.T.’s J. Eric Camp and Alonso Homs, camera operators Rachel Levine and Brant Fagan, assistants Oliver Cary, James Daly, Kate Larose, Ludovic Littee, Frank Love, and Nate McGarigal. Nicole Rivelli was the unit stills photographer.

Perfect Sense / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office


Perfect Sense – Giles Nuttgens used a Sony CineAlta F35 and Zeiss Master Prime Lenses to capture this U.K. love story about two people (Ewan McGregor and Eva Green) who fall in love just as the world begins to fall apart. Directed by David Mackenzie.

Red State / Photo by Tony Rivetti, Jr.


Red State – Writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Clerks II, Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) is back at Sundance with an unusual horror/thriller about a group of misfits who encounter extreme fundamentalism in Middle America. Shot by Smith’s long-time cinematographer David Klein, with a Union crew that included operators Tony Oliveri and Rick Davidson, ACs Mark Colicci, Sal Coniglio, Mary Funsten, Patrick Meade Jones, and still photographer Tony Rivetti, Jr.

Salvation Boulevard / Photo by Mark Preston


Salvation Boulevard – Lensed by Sundance veteran Tim Orr and led by a terrific cast that includes Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear, and Marisa Tomei. The story centers on an evangelical preacher, who having captivated a city with his charm, frames a Deadhead-turned-born-again-Christian for a crime he did not commit. Guild members included operators Matthew Petrosky and Beau Chaput, ACs Jimmy Jensen, Brent Egan, Stephen Early, Robert Rycroft, Trevor Rios and Nick Cutway, crane operators Robert Henning and Daniel Noga, and unit stills Mark Preston.

The Son of No One / Photo by Phillip Caruso


The Son of No One – This intense drama about two men in post-91/11 New York who are forced to relive two murders they committed as young boys is the festival’s Closing Night Film. Lensed by Benoit Delhomme with a Local 600 team that included operators George Bianchini, Manuel Billeter, Jon Delgado, and Tim Naylor. Assistants included James Daly, Sarah Hendrick, David Regan, Randy Schwartz, Linda Slater and Katie Waalkes. Phillip Caruso handled unit stills; Randy Greer was the film’s aerial DP, with Jonathan Hall contributing additional cinematography.

Win Win / Courtesy of Sundance Press Office


Win Win – Sundance vets Oliver Bokelberg and writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) debut their new comedy about a high school wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti), who stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy’s mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything. Eric Moynier, Gerard Sava, and Howard Smith handled operating chores, along with 1st AC Stanley Fernandez, Jr. and loaders Gavin Fernandez and Hamilton Longyear.


Bobby Fischer Against The World – Robert Chappell shot this first-ever account exploring the tragic and bizarre life of the late chess master. The drama of Fischer’s career began in his troubled childhood, and extended to his rock star status as World Champion and Cold War icon, to his life as a fugitive on the run. Directed and produced by Oscar-nominee Liz Garbus (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib), this film explores one of the most infamous and mysterious characters of the 20th century.

Rebirth – Operator Tom Lappin worked on this film by director Jim Whittaker that weaves together five stories of individuals whose lives were profoundly altered by the 9/11 attack with unprecedented time-lapse footage of Ground Zero composed over ten years, in what emerges as a chronicle of grief’s evolution and a nation healing.

These Amazing Shadows – ICG member James Laxton earned an additional cinematography credit on this documentary from writers/directors Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton that tells the history and importance of The National Film Registry, a roll call of American cinema treasures that chart the socio-political history of the nation. Filmmakers interviewed include Caleb Deschanel, ASC, Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, John Lasseter, and John Singleton.

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Lord Byron / Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle


Lord Byron – Unit stills member Hilary Bronwyn Gayle worked on this labor of love, written and produced by Zack Godshall and Russ Brumbacher and shot on location in Louisiana. As Gayle notes: “Zack invited me to shoot stills for a few days of production. It was not a paying gig, but I (like everyone else involved) was more than willing to work for the fun and love of filmmaking.”

sound of my voice / Courtesy of Rachel Morrison

sound of my voice – Rachel Morrison shot this story about a young couple who infiltrate a cult that meets in a San Fernando Valley basement. Local 600 operator Abby Linne handled B-camera chores for the micro-budget film. (Morrison also shot The Terrys, playing in the festival’s Shorts Section 1)

SPOTLIGHT (new section for 2010)

Letters From the Big Man / Courtesy of Antarctic Pictures


Letters From The Big Man – Rob Sweeney shot this film, directed by Christopher Munch, which will have it’s World Premiere at Sundance. The micro-budget project was shot with the RED ONE camera with the first generation M-X sensor. Sarah Smith (Lily Rabe) is an artist and government hydrologist who sets out on a post-fire stream survey in a remote section of southwestern Oregon. Journeying through this ancient and ecologically diverse land, she unwittingly finds herself interacting with a Sasquatch man. A friendship ensues, forcing Sarah to take bold steps to protect the pair’s privacy.

Meek’s Cutoff – Christopher Blauvelt shot this Western from director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy), set in 1845, about three families who hire a mountaineer to guide their wagons over the Cascade Mountains. When the pioneers get lost, they face hunger, thirst, and a lack of faith in their own instincts to survive. ICG members on the Oregon-based shoot included AC’s Steve MacDougall, Eliza Plumlee, Chris Strauser, and Savannah Teller Brown.


The Woman – Alex Vendler shot this story (with Chris Heinrich serving as 2nd Unit DP) by horror filmmaker Lucky McKee (May, Red, The Woods) about a successful country lawyer who after capturing and attempting to “civilize” the last remaining member of a violent clan that has roamed the Northeast coast for decades, puts the lives of his family in jeopardy.


Animal Love – Byron Shah shot this short film, along with Shah’s long-time assistant cameraman, Ethan McDonald. Shah’s wife, Mollie Jones, wrote and directed the project that is set in a near future of environmental degradation, where a couple meet for an Internet hook-up in an animal lover’s apartment. As Jones describes: “To save money, we shot in our house, and the three-day schedule upended the lives of our two young boys (“why is my bed in the living room?”) On the plus side, our actress Selma Blair generously pitched in with housework between takes: she organized the shoe rack and hosed down the kids’ plastic swimming pool, amongst other projects.

Superheroes – This documentary, shot and directed by cinematographer Michael Barnett, is a journey inside the world of real-life caped crusaders. From all over America, these everyday citizens don masks, homemade costumes and elaborate utility belts in an attempt to bring justice to evildoers everywhere. Shot entirely on a Canon 5D Mark II, Barnett says he spent months communicating through emails, MySpace, Facebook and phone calls, before finally meeting any of his real life superheroes. “Most of the subjects in the film are completely anonymous,” Barnett explains. “Even now, after shooting for nearly a year, we know the true identities of only a few heroes.”

By David Geffner