Access Pollywood: At Sundance, a $17M Film Shatters Records

Film legend Robert Redford welcomes new film voices to Sundance Film Festival 2016.

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Photos by Liz H Kelly At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Mark Boone Jr (The Birth of a Nation) and Justin Long (Yoga Hosers) with actor Vincent De Paul.

At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Mark Boone Jr (The Birth of a Nation) and Justin Long (Yoga Hosers) with actor Vincent De Paul (Photo by Liz H Kelly)

PARK City, UTAH – If Washingtonians think they had it tough with Snowzilla and its ancillary snowstorms this Winter, try on Park City, Utah in January, which so far this season has been the welcome recipient of nearly 300 inches of powder, which stacks up just about everywhere here.

Finally setting foot onto Main Street for the 31st Annual Sundance Film Festival in January, I ran into more film enthusiasts eager to gladly don their Dockers, Ugg Boots and Canada Goose Heritage Parkas to brave Utah’s chilly elements.

On opening night, Sundance Founder Robert Redford stepped onto stage with John Cooper, the festival’s senior programmer, who started the indie film fest  with their annual introduction at the Egyptian Theater.

Redford and Cooper discussed “Ignite,” a new Sundance program which invites 300 budding filmmakers from middle schools across the United States. “For Sundance it is  about  new  young  voices in the film world,” Cooper said. “They are our future.”

This year’s opening night film, “Just Another Version of You,” is a trailblazing documentary on the legendary TV show runner Norman Lear. The lively tribute to Lear is by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the filmmakers responsible for the “Boys Of Baraka” documentary.

“I spoke with Lear at [age] 93 and he was very candid about what Archie Bunker would say about the documentary,” Ewing said.  “Archie would say ‘Call Donald Trump and ask him!”

Some of the greatest highlights of Sundance 2016 happened at the hosted parties and dinners at Acura Lounge.  It was here that I met up one night with Daniel Radcliffe shortly before the premiere of his “Swiss Army Man,” in which he plays a corpse rather interestingly.

It was then on to Chase Saphire Lounge for the premiere party of “Birth of a Nation,” perhaps the most anticipated release at Sundance 2016. Produced by Mandalay Pictures Vice President Jason Berman of Pikesville, MD., it broke a Sundance record when rights to the film were sold to Fox Searchlight Studios for a cool $17 million.

The next stop on the Sundance trail was the Indie Lounge, hosted by Jade Umbrella Group’s Stacey Barker and Daniel Thompson. The lounge celebrated emerging filmmakers and was complete with live music, a gifting lounge, and a screening room located just off Main Street.

Cat lovers had their share of catnip at Catdance Park, a celebration of independent film starring shelter cats hosted by Fresh Step with the power of Febreze. “New Girl” actress Hannah Simone struck a pose on the red carpet, saluting the very best of pussy film by bestowing the coveted Golden Litter Scoop and $25,000 grand prize to the producers of “The Purfect Patsy.”

While guests enjoyed cat themed cocktails and adorned headbands shaped like cat ears, Catdance Park also debuted the Catdance Film Festival and a virtual reality cat adoption experience – as seen through the eyes of a cat.

Slamdance, which bills itself as a “fun, radical, free-spirited festival,”  the Director’s Cut and Chemical Cut were truly a cut above this year.

In one featured flick directed by Marjorie Conrad, a misfit turned L.A. model struggles to define herself in the soul-crushing fashion industry, while in another, actor Nicolas Coster (“The Bay”) and his son make their Slamdance premiere in a feature about a misfit and his best friend (Ian Coster).

In the Directors Cut, Herbert Blount (played by magician Penn Jillette) aspires to replace the real director of a movie and make it his own by capturing the lead actress Missi Pyle (“The Artist”) by inflicting horror upon her.  Directed by Adam Rifkin, the movie was great campy fun, in the grand style of John Waters and Cecil B. Demented.

At this year’s Sundance Festival, it did not matter what genre of films  you enjoy, a great time was had by all who attended.

Emmy Award winning producer and actor Vincent De Paul is a frequent contributor to Washington Life.

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