This week, along with thousands of others, I received a little email from the Sundance festival. I’d sent Coming to Terms (and 3 other works) solely because I’d been given a waiver and did not have to pay the pricey admission fee, and at 69 I thought it would be nice to get in one more skiing session before my body insists otherwise. I didn’t really think they’d take the film as it’s not exactly an audience pleaser, but the film world scuttlebutt was that the new director, John Cooper, was intending to shift the festival back to something more, uh, “independent,” and indeed in the last years they’d shown some installations (one by friend Leighton Pierce), so I thought… But not really. The other day’s announcement in the New York Times showed a program littered with stars, and was described by the writer as having films that “could be accessible.” [Translation: accessible = commercial.] So much for turns to “independence.” So no drive to Park City to sleep in the Subaru (festival doesn’t pay to get you there or accommodations, so…), and no skiing this year. C’est la festive vie.
RE: 12465-UNF – COMING TO TERMS
On behalf of the Sundance Programming staff, I would like to thank you for submitting your film to us for 2013 Sundance Film Festival consideration. Unfortunately, we were unable to include it in our Festival program this year. For the first time in our history, we received more than 12,000 submissions (12,146 to be exact), so deciding on a final program was more difficult than ever. We selected 170 films from around the world (1.4% of the total films submitted to us), and it goes without saying that we viewed far more worthy films than we had room for in our program. Please know that your film was carefully considered by our team, and we truly respect your hard work and dedication as an independent filmmaker. We wish you the best of luck with your project and hope you will give us the opportunity to view your work in the future.
Director, Sundance Film Festival
To see a PDF of the real thing, go here: reject from sundance
Now, being quite honest, I didn’t really think any of the things I sent would get in, but with the waiver it seemed worth the DVDs and postage costs to roll the dice. I’d been to Sundance 20 years ago, and it was already too much a frantic circus of short-term hysteria and people trampling over each other, and the aggressive “gonna make it” egos of filmmakers looking to punch their tickets on to Hollywood. The film I showed back then, in competition, Frameup, garnered almost no response, critically, or from the seemingly baffled audience of would-be “hip” viewers. My droller than droll dark humor did not amuse this crowd – they prefer theirs’ in Jarmusch mode I imagine. I did get to go skiing.
Frameup went on to the Berlin Forum, got some TV sales in Europe, and I still get people writing me, looking for a decent DVD of it.
I also sent the documentary shot last autumn in the Fukushima district in Japan, The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-hima. It is a delicate work on survivors of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. So far it’s been rejected by a handful of festivals – Toronto, Festivale dei Popoli in Florence, Italy, the Margaret Mead whatever in NYC, and a few others I forget. And now Sundance joins the list.
Trinity is 57 minutes of silence and discreetly gorgeous imagery, vaguely based on Christian myths, with which most of we westerners are all too familiar. Not your usual festival fare. Certainly not at Sundance.
And then Stand (After Courbet) is a short (28 mins) which though perhaps it appears to be a single shot, is not. It is meditative, like Trinity. It’s not going to be any festival’s hot ticket.
Of course these rejection notices come on the heels of numerous others this last year. Imagens de uma cidade perdida, a 97 minute long portrait of Lisboa, which screened in competition at the Yamagata festival last autumn, and was shown inRotterdam in February 2011, was rejected by everyone else I sent it to, a list a little too long to go into here – a mess of documentary festivals and others.
And then there was Dissonance, admittedly a challenging and strange film, which was also sent to a mess of festivals – including the avant garde American one at Ann Arbor, and it too was roundly rejected by all except the festival in Split, Croatia, which placed it in a side-bar for weird films.
I know that I was hardly alone in collecting all these rejection notices (when they bothered to send them – some I learned of by checking the list of films they were screening), though perhaps my cynicism is such that my response is primarily pragmatic: yes, I would have liked a free trip to Florence so as to see some friends in Italy, have some good food and wine, and, incidentally have a screening at the festival there. Ditto a few other places where participation = a ticket and a few nights in a hotel where ever. It’s the only pay I ever get for these things anymore.
Back in 2008 I addressed this in an early blog post, here. Once upon a time there was a little space for the not-so-conventional work, some festivals that encouraged such work. And I suppose there remain a few places here and there, though usually in some ghettoized section which announces a priori to the potential audience, “you don’t want to see this.” Underlying this is the vast corporate commercialization of virtually everything. Notice the list of corporate sponsors on any festival trailer or poster. Notice that one can’t get a review in a “main-stream” paper or magazine if the work doesn’t have “theatrical” play. That translates as “commercial” appeal since that is the only thing that will show in a cinema (however misguided the judgment may be on what is “commercial”.) [The current Cloud Atlas provides a case in point – a film packed with major stars (mostly giving rather bad performances), a twisted convoluted story which supposedly makes it “art.” Instead it is an utterly cinematically conventional film, backed with $80 million in CGI pyrotechnics, foisted off on a dumbed down public as “art.” It is a god-awful mess on all accounts, having nothing to do with art at all. Happily the investors will lose their shirts, though doubtless the filmmakers will see their failure rewarded with another shot.]
This, alas, is the world today, with most minds utterly colonized by our All-American Sacred Market Economy mantra, even though the Wizards behind it all have been shown to be as empty as that of Oz, and perhaps people are wising up. Maybe before I drop dead another quiver of some kind of creative pulse will show up – indeed it always does, though often in hidden ways.
Meantime I expect to keep collecting rejection slips….