Local 600 filmmakers scale indie film-land’s summit at Sundance 2012. By David Geffner. Additional Contributors: Wes Driver and Teresa Munoz.
(Lead Photo: Graham Phillips, David Duchovny, Goats / Photo by Gregory Peters)
The climbing metaphors abound for invitees to the world’s most important showcase for independent film, the Sundance Film Festival, unspooling later this month in the snow-covered hills of Park City, Utah. First off is the location, plopped beneath some of America’s most picturesque peaks in the Wasatch mountain range. And then there’s the months, sometimes years, of effort that making an indie movie requires: assembling a team, triple-checking the gear, battling the elements, all on a budget that would barely allow for a week of freeze-dried meals from your local REI. Chasing some distant summit in the clouds, independent moviemakers are this industry’s equivalent of extreme athletes. Their quests are long and hard, and the debts and favors incurred along the way may well trump the glory of planting their flags at the top of the mountain (especially when no distribution is secured). Yet still they climb, for love and art and that warm glow that only a Park City premiere can provide. This year’s celebration includes more than 40 films shot with Guild members – an intrepid pack of climbers inhaling deeply of that rarefied mountain air.
(Note: this listing was compiled with information supplied by Local 600 members prior to the start of the festival. We apologize in advance for omissions of names not provided to www.icgmagazine.com by posting date)
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U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
For Ellen – New York-based cinematographer Reed Morano (see ICG December 2011 Generation NEXT) shot this indie feature for director and screenwriter So Yong Kim. The drama concerns a struggling musician, who takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. The cast includes Paul Dano, Jon Heder, and Jena Malone. Guild member Nate Selvin was Morano’s 1st AC on the project.
Hello, I Must Be Going – 2009 Emerging Cinematographers Awards honoree Julie Kirkwood lensed this offbeat comedy about a divorced, childless, and “demoralized” 35-year old woman (New Zealander Melanie Lynskey), who moves back in with her parents. Prospects look bleak until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Kirkwood shot on ALEXA around Connecticut locations last summer, with Bret Suding as 1st AC and Mike DiCarlo as 2nd AC.
LUV – Gavin Kelly’s last visit to Sundance was the 2010 Grand Jury Prize nominated drama The Dry Land. The Generation NEXT (ICG December 2010) cinematographer, who has won an Emmy and been honored by the ASC, returns to Park City with LUV, the story of an orphaned 11-year-old boy who is forced to face the truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day on the streets of Baltimore. Kelly says he “lobbied” to use Hawk V-series Lite Anamorphic primes on his RED MX rig. “We needed sharp anamorphic lenses with nice contrast that were also lightweight, fast and sharp, and have the unique ability to flare that we were looking for,” Kelly explains. “We wanted to keep the look anchored to the boy’s perspective, which includes a subtle innocence, even when things get darker and more complex in the story.” Guild 1st AC Marc Wiercioch and Unit Stills Bill Gray were on the project. The powerhouse cast includes Common, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, and Charles S. Dutton.
Nobody Walks – Guild operator and former 1st AC, Chris Blauvelt, whose cinematography feature debut, Meeks Cutoff, won an 2010 Independent Spirit Award, shot this indie drawing room comedy about a young New York artist whose visit to the home of a hip, liberal Los Angeles family unravels a quagmire of sexual and emotional entanglements. The cool young cast, working with writer/director Ry Russo-Young, includes John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby and Rosemarie DeWitt. Blauvelt was also 2nd Unit DP on this year’s Sundance Premieres feature, Goats.
Simon Killer – New York-based AC Joe Anderson’s debut feature was for Antonio Campo, whose previous film Afterschool, played at the Cannes and New York film festivals. Simon (Brady Corbet) is a recent college graduate who goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. When he falls in love with a young mysterious prostitute, a fateful journey begins. Anderson says the production was granted rare access to the Louvre and the D’Orsay museums as well as active brothels and the streets of the Pigalle red-light district.
Safety Not Guaranteed – New Guild DP Benjamin Kasulke was behind the lens for director’s Colin Trevorrow unique story about a trio of magazine employees who investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s up to.
Smashed – Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie. Sundance veteran Tobias Datum, and Guild 1st AC Lawrence Montemayor, shot the project on ALEXA for writer/director James Ponsoldt.
The Surrogate – John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung who decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist (Helen Hunt) and the guidance of his priest (William H. Macy), he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Guild cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson shot this touching dramedy for writer/director Ben Lewin.
The End of Love – Alicia Robbins and Ben Semanoff operated Canon 5D Mark II’s for this drama centered on the relationship between a young father and his infant son after the death of the boy’s mother. Robbins says the free-form documentary style helped in covering the intimate scenes with the two-year old boy playing Isaac, who director/actor Mark Webber worked with prior to shooting to acclimate the toddler to the camera crew.
The First Time – Cinematographer Rhet Bear shot this romantic comedy about two high schoolers who meet at a party, and over the course of a single weekend, discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Guild members on the crew included A-camera operator and Steadicam Ron Veto, A-camera 1st AC Kevin “Blair” Rogers, B-camera 1st AC David Erickson, 2nd AC Ashley Carpenter, DIT Kyle Spicer, additional 1st AC Hiro Fukuda, and Unit Stills Gemma LaMana.
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U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare – Longtime documentary cinematographer Wolfgang Held (The Lottery, American Teen) returns to Sundance with this examination by filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke of how to repair the nation’s broken medical system. The timely non-fiction piece follows dramatic human stories, as well as leaders fighting to transform healthcare at the highest levels of medicine, industry, government, and even the U.S. military.
Finding North – Daniel Gold, who won the Sundance Documentary Prize for Cinematography 10 years ago for the critically acclaimed Blue Vinyl, co-shot this documentary feature about hunger in America, which filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush posit is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. One of the main questions posed is can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future?
The Invisible War – Oscar nominated documentarian Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Twist of Faith, Chain Camera) tackles yet another taboo in American culture: the rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, and the institutions that cover up its existence. Co-shot by Guild member Thadeus Wadleigh, whose work on the critically acclaimed documentary Who Killed The Electric Car? premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World – Macky Alston’s profile of two defining passions in conflict was shot by Sundance and Emmy-winning documentary cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, ASC, the first of two documentary features Hurwitz has in Competition this year at the festival. Gene Robinson, Christendom’s first openly gay bishop, refuses to leave the Church or the man he loves.
Me At The Zoo – This is the second entry in the Documentary Competition section for Wolfgang Held, who helped visualize this supremely contemporary story about Chris Crocker, a young video blogger from small-town Tennessee who, with 270 million hits to date, has become the Internet’s first rebel folk hero, and also one of its most controversial personalities. Held’s cinematography combines with footage shot by directors Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch, along with video from Crocker himself.
The Other Dream Team – USC Film School graduate Jesse Feldman shot this dramatic true-life story about the1992 Lithuanian National Basketball Team, which went from the stranglehold of Communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Former NBA stars Mitch Richmond and Bill Walton are among those interviewed by director Marius Markevicius. Shot in the U.S., Italy, and Lithuania, Feldman says, “travel and cost restraints required us to shoot on several different cameras that were available locally; mainly a variety of 2/3-inch Panasonics, and a Canon 5D Mark II.”
The Queen of Versailles – Tom Hurwitz’s second feature in the Documentary Competition category is a uniquely American story about a wealthy Florida family who falls into the abyss of the nation’s massive financial crisis. Jackie and David were constructing the biggest house in the country – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire faltered. Guild cinematographers Shana Hagan and Sarah Levy did additional photography on the film.
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Bachelorette – Doug Emmett shot this all-union low-budget comedy in New York City, the first of two projects Emmett has screening at Sundance this year. Unresolved issues between four high school friends come roaring back to life when the least popular of them gets engaged to one of the most eligible bachelors in New York City and asks the others to be bridesmaids in her wedding. The large Guild crew included A-camera operator Alan Pierce, B-camera operator and Steadicam Michael Fuchs, A-camera 1st ACs Michael Burke and Sarah Hendrick, A-camera 2nd AC Jeff Pinette, 2nd AC Patrick Bracey, B-camera 1st AC Johnny Sousa, B-camera 2nd AC Mara Galus, DIT Patrick Neri and Unit Stills Jacob Hutchings, the first of three films Hutchings has at Sundance for 2012.
California Solo – The first of two Sundance entries this year for DP James Laxton centers on a former Britpop rocker, now working on a farm outside of L.A. When he’s caught driving drunk and faces deportation, he must confront past and current demons in his life to stay in the country. Marshall Lewy writes and directs.
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Cinematographer David Lazenberg partnered with director Lee Toland to help visualize the story of high school sweethearts, Celeste and Jesse, who marry young, and then divorce a decade later, only to remain best friends while pursuing other relationships.
For A Good Time, Call…Laxton’s second Premieres film was directed by Jamie Travis, and written by Katie Anne Naylon and Lauren Anne Miller. The main characters (named after the writers) move in together after a loss of a relationship and a rent-controlled home, respectively. When Lauren learns what Katie does for a living the two enter into a wildly unconventional business endeavor.
Goats –Fifteen-year-old Ellis (Graham Phillips) leaves behind his unconventional home in the Arizona desert to begin his freshman year at Gates Academy, a preparatory school on the East Coast. Once there, he reconnects with his estranged father (Ty Burrell) and questions the family dynamics he left behind, which include his new age mother (Vera Farmiga) and the only real father he has ever known, Goat Man (David Duchovny). Shorts and docs shooter Wyatt Troll makes his narrative feature debut for director Christopher Neil, with a story adapted by Mark Poirier from his novel. Guild unit stills Gregory Peters was also on the project.
Lay The Favorite – Sundance veteran Michael McDonough (Winter’s Bone) steps up to the main track for this story, based on Beth Raymer’s memoir, about an adventurous young woman (Rebecca Hall) who gets involved with a group of geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage. The Derby field cast includes Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn, and was directed by two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears. The all-union camera department included A-camera operator/Steadicam Michael Stumpf, A-camera 1st AC Craig Pressgrove, A-camera 2nd AC Mike Kennedy, B-camera operator Alan Pierce, B-camera 1st AC Matt Pebler, B-camera 2nd AC John Hoffler, DIT (and ICG National Vice President) Lewis Rothenberg, Digital Utility Michelle Garcia, Unit Stills Frank Masi and Unit Publicist Peter Silbermann.
Liberal Arts – New York-based cinematographer Seamus Tierney brings his third narrative feature (Adam, Happythankyoumoreplease) in four years to Park City. Written, directed and starring Josh Radnor, Liberal Arts centers on thirty-something Jesse, who is invited back to his college alma mater. When he falls for a young 19-year-old college student (Elizabeth Olsen), Jesse is faced with the powerful attraction that springs up between them. Local 600 crewmembers on the film, which was shot in Ohio and New York City, included Camera Operator Tarik Hameedi, Steadicam Operator Michael Fuchs, 1st ACs Katherine (KT) Comkowycz and Cameron Dingwall, 2nd AC Carolyn Pender, DIT Patrick Neri, and Unit Stills Jacobs Hutchings.
Predisposed – Ben Kutchins, who shot 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Nominee Holy Rollers, returns to Park City with this story about piano prodigy Eli Smith (Jesse Eisenberg), who is constantly derailed by his troubled mother. On the day of an audition for a prestigious music program, mother and son enlist the help of two hapless drug dealers to get her into rehab, embarking on a journey where events spiral comically out of control. “We shot on 35mm 3-perf 2:40 with Panavision Primo lenses and an XL2 body as our A-camera,” Kutchins recounts. “Although we shot almost entirely handheld with 1000-foot magazines to increase efficiency, the key audition scenes were shot on dolly on a curved track laid around a grand piano. We wanted the long sweeping movement to bring the audience into Eli’s head.” Other Guild members on the show included Operator/Steadicam Dave Isern, 1st AC George Tur, Loader John David Devergilis, B-camera 1st AC Franziska Schirmer Lewis, B-camera 2nd AC Marc-Eric Nielson, and Unit Stills Jacobs Hutchings.
Price Check – One-time gaffer and electric department member Sam Chase visualized this story about Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), who is struggling to resolve a happy marriage and family life with rising debt and a job he hates. When his new boss, Susan (Sundance perennial Parker Posey) shows up, Pete is pulled into the maelstrom that is her life and made to work harder than he ever has before. Suddenly, money and opportunities come his way, but at what price?
Robot and Frank – Matthew Lloyd shot this story about a curmudgeonly ex-jewel thief (Frank Langella) who is given a robot caretaker by his grown children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler). The Salt Lake City Gala screening was directed by Jake Schreier and features the voice of Liev Schrieber as “Frank’s robot.”
The Words – This closing night film was lensed by Antonio Calvache and co-directed by screenwriters Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Aspiring writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) finds another man’s haunting memories in a collection of lost stories and claims them as his own, thus propelling him to literary stardom and a price to pay he could never have envisioned. Calvache’s In The Bedroom won a Special Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival before going on to be nominated for five Academy Awards.
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Ethel – Documentary cinematography legend Buddy Squires (ICG – November 2009) teams up with Emmy Award-winning director/producer Rory Kennedy for this intimate family portrait of Rory’s famous mother. The character study provides a unique insight into Ethel’s life with Robert F. Kennedy, and the eleven children she raised on her own following his death. A personal story interwoven with some of the most important moments of the 20th century, Ethel also features never-before-seen footage from the Kennedy family’s private collection.
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Your Sister’s Sister – Benjamin Kasulke’s second of three films screening in Park City this year was written and directed by actress Lynn Shelton (Safety Not Guaranteed). The comedy stars Emily Blunt, whose character, Iris, invites her friend Jack (indie filmmaker Mark Duplass) to stay at her family’s island getaway after the death of his brother. At their remote cabin, Jack’s drunken encounter with Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris’ sister, kicks off a revealing stretch of days.
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PARK CITY AT MIDNIGHT
The Pact – Park City native Bridger Neilson shot the short, and this feature it then inspired, for writer/director Nicholas McCarthy. Caity Lotz plays a woman who, as she struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother’s death, feels an unsettling presence emerge in her childhood home.
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie – This outlandish comedy was shot by Rachel Morrison, who made her Sundance debut with last year’s Sound of My Voice. Written, directed and starring Tim Heidecker and Eric Warenheim, it concerns two guys who are given a billion dollars to make a movie, When their Hollywood dreams run off course they decide to rehabilitate a run-down shopping mall in an attempt to make the money back. Hollywood star cameos abound, including Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis and Jeff Goldblum. Morrison credits her “incredible, all Union crew”, which consisted of operator Abby Linne, 1st ACs Shaun Mayor and Scott Garrison and 2nd ACs Eli Berg and Isaiah Fortajada. “We shot in L.A. and Palm Springs on two RED MX’s,” she adds.
SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS – Cinematographer Reed Morano’s second film at Sundance follows James Murphy, front man for dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem, over a crucial 48-hour period. The film begins on the day of Murphy’s final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after, and the personal and professional ramifications of his decision to disband the group at the height of their success. Morano says her and Guild AC Kevin Akers shot this unique documentary/narrative hybrid with the ALEXA in a run-n-gun style using all available light and practicals.
V/H/S – Second AC Victoria K. Warren lensed the “Amateur Night” segment of this POV/found footage horror-thriller that unites six up-and-coming genre directors – David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence, Ti West, and Adam Wingard. When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for. The cast features Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, and Kate Lyn Sheil.
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Mosquita y Mari – Guild cinematographer Magela Crosignani was behind the lens for this bold and provocative effort from writer/director Aurora Guerrero about a friendship between two 15-year-old Latinas, who are struggling to recognize the sexual undercurrent in their relationship. The all-Latin cast includes Fenessa Pineda, Venecia Troncoso, Joaquín Garrido, Laura Patalano, and Dulce Maria Solis.
Pursuit of Loneliness – A startling Sundance debut for director of photography Gary Young, and writer/director Lawrence Thrush. When an elderly patient dies in a county hospital leaving no known next of kin, four different characters try to find a family member to contact in regards to unknown person’s death; a nurse, a social services representative of the hospital, the emergency contact person listed on the decedents admission form, and an investigator from the public administrators office.
Sleepwalk With Me – From Ira Glass, the producer and creator of the popular NPR radio series, This American Life, comes this story of a budding standup comedian who is reluctant to confront his fears of love, honesty, and growing up. His struggle is made all the more intense (and hilarious) by the constant plague of sleepwalking. Music video and documentary cinematographer Adam Beckman also lensed the TV version of Glass’ series in 2007/2008.
That’s What She Said – Armed with nothing but their addictions and lots of personal baggage, two best friends and a mysterious young interloper battle a series of misadventures on their quest for love in New York City. This offbeat comedy, which is the feature cinematography debut from former gaffer and episodic DP William Klayer (Royal Pains, Law & Order), was shot on Super 16mm with Panavision equipment. It stars Anne Heche, Marcia DeBonis, and Alia Shawkat, and was directed by actress Carrie Preston, whose resume includes stints on The Good Wife, True Blood, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Twenty-Eight Hotel Rooms – From writer/director Matt Ross comes this experimental look at a long-term extramarital affair, seen only as fragments in the secret world of hotel rooms, and yet, perhaps, the most significant relationship of a couple’s lives. Making his Sundance debut is Guild cinematographer Doug Emmett. Local 600 crewmembers on this project included 1st AC Buddy Allen Thomas, and 2nd AC Joey Joyce.
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The Arm – Guild DP Blake McClure shot this micro-budget short film over three days on a Canon 5D Mark II. Lensed in and around Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, CA, the story is about a young man named Chance, who in an attempt to keep up with social pressure in a technologically advanced world, starts a texting relationship with Genevieve – a girl he meets at a yogurt shop. When Genevieve dies while texting and driving it forces Chance to realize he was never in a relationship at all.
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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL USA (Nashville, TN, January 26)
West of Memphis – Acclaimed documentary cinematographer Maryse Alberti shot this non-fiction tale about three teenage boys who are incarcerated for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Nineteen years later, new evidence calls into question the convictions and raises issues of judicial, prosecutorial and jury misconduct – showing that the first casualty of a corrupt justice system is the truth.
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Neil Young Journeys – Director Jonathan Demme serves up an intimate retrospective of the legendary rock and roller. Guild DP Declan Quinn, ASC also shot Demme’s earlier rock-doc, Neil Young Trunk Show, as well as Demme’s critically acclaimed Rachel Getting Married. Quinn has won three Independent Spirit Best Cinematography Awards – Leaving Las Vegas, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love and In America.
Holiday Road – Bobby Palmer and Daron Leah Nefcy (daughter of L.A.-based Local 600 Operator Jay Nefcy) contributed the “St. Patrick’s Day” animation segment to this compilation film featuring twelve different directors’ celebrating an American holiday. Daron Nefcy graduated from California Institute of the Arts in 2009, and received a $1,500 grant from Local 600’s Scholarship Committee, chaired by Guild Operator Bonnie Blake.
Reinaldo Arenas – Second AC Daniel Fernandez shot this short film, inspired by a true story, which captures the dying moments in the life of an unintentional immigrant into Miami. “We kept the lenses long and the depth of field short to accentuate the character’s confusion,” Fernandez explains. “I tested the lens babies but the effect needed to be less premeditated, more jarring. So we shot with the lens loose and pulled it out intermittently.” Fernández, an avid diver and underwater cinematographer, decided to use the GoPro for the opening POV shot because of its maneuverability. “Normally the rolling shutter would have been a problem but here it adds a sense of confusion.” The film was finished with a DI to match the two cameras and blue was added to the de-saturated footage for a more film-like look.
The Dude – A documentary short on legendary film sales agent and indie film world player Jeff Dowd. It was lensed by Benjamin Kasulke for RSA Films/USA Network’s Character Project in Santa Monica and Tampa last February on a Panasonic AF-100 rented from AbelCine. RSA Films and USA networks debuted the film online last summer.
All photos courtesy of Sundance/Slamdance Press Office unless otherwise noted.