Sundance: First Few Premieres Disappoint

PARK CITY, Utah — From the looks of the lines outside the Eccles Theatre Friday night, you would have thought that people were waiting to get into the Golden Globes. But no, it was just the premiere of Double Whammy from director Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion, The Real Blonde) and starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Hurley. Those who did finally get in unfortunately had to suffer through a lack of story development and flat performances from the two stars.

There was disappointment in the chilly air during the first few days of the festival, where the best among the assembled films were documentaries. As of Sunday evening, the Mr. Showbiz critics had seen a total of 14 films, only one of which — The Business of Strangers — stands out in the drama category. On the documentary side, our favorite so far is Dogtown and Z-Boys, a spectacular ride through the history of skateboarding and a look at the Southern California kids who turned it into a cultural movement.

Deal-Making Off to a Sleepy Start Thankfully, both aforementioned aces in the hole have received heavy distributor interest (Dogtown has multiple offers on the table, according to the film's enthused director, Stacy Peralta). But distributors are being less aggressive about making deals quickly than in years past. Only 13 of the 100 or so films at this year's festival arrived with deals in place, which is a remarkably low number compared to recent years. It wasn't until midday today that we got word about the fest's first pickup deal: Mr. Showbiz inside sources confirmed that a deal between Fox Searchlight and the makers of Super Trooper (which is part of the Midnight at Park City film series) is close.

Miramax, the king of independents, brought no films to Park City this year, and a publicist for the company pointed to that fact in a pre-fest e-mail, in which he also promised, "We will be there in a big way with acquisitions."

So far, no deals from Miramax — although company president Harvey Weinstein was very visible at Friday screenings before returning to Los Angeles for the Golden Globes. We wouldn't be surprised if he snatches up multiple films when he gets back to Park City. Other major distributors — including Fine Line Features, Lions Gate, Fox Searchlight, and Sony Pictures Classics — have also been quiet, though all have dispatched their executives to screenings. But while the deal-making may be getting off to a sleepy start, few people are worried.

"Many of these films have only screened once," says veteran Sundance publicist Jeremy Walker, who is here representing four films, one of which, L.I.E., has a deal on the table, and others of which are attracting serious attention. "I'm incredibly encouraged by how closely people are looking at these films."

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