What this year's Sundance Film Festival has in store

January 19th, 2012

The National
By David D’Arcy
Jan. 19, 2012

In conflict there is drama, the saying goes, and there is publicity. Before the curtain rose on the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, a lawsuit usurped the spotlight at an annual event that has never wanted for attention.

Opening today and running until January 29 in Park City, Utah, this year’s festival of 117 feature films was eclipsed by a legal salvo from the man who is building the largest house in the United States. David Siegel, a real estate timeshare entrepreneur, complained that a documentary which opens the festival defames him, basing his charge on a festival catalogue description of his career as a “rags to riches to rags” story. Siegel insists that he and his business – which includes the Westgate Park City ski resort — are thriving. The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield, chronicles the construction of Siegel’s 90,000 sq ft house near Disney World in Florida during a sagging economy. Sundance stands by its commitment to show the film.

Siegel and his manor – now for sale at US$100 million (Dh367m) – have received plenty of attention. He won’t be alone in the media glow at Sundance, always a mix of seriousness and celebrity. Even in a struggling economy, demand is surging for tickets, hotel rooms and limousines in this former mining town.

For more than 20 years, the essential annual event for young independent filmmakers has also been a talent hunt for Hollywood studios on the trail of the next Steven Soderbergh or Quentin Tarantino.

“The majors are there to find talent, the agents are still there to represent some director from a small film,” said the veteran executive Bob Berney, the president of FilmDistrict Theatrical.

“There’s always a chance that something will pop out, maybe the new Little Miss Sunshine.”

Once again, Sundance is also a destination for improbable projects – films by actors as directors and non-commercial labours of love sustained by marquee names. Julie Delpy is the auteur of Two Days in New York, in which she co-stars with Chris Rockin in a sequel to her Two Days in Paris. Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F Kennedy, will show Ethel, a documentary portrait of her mother.

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