Sundance: Tough Movies, Tougher Deals

First-time feature director Ilya Chaiken has created a compelling, unique story about motherhood and relationships among the underground art and music scenes of New York with Margarita Happy Hour, as yet our favorite dramatic film of the festival. While Happy Hour has enjoyed some organic word of mouth and received some distributor interest over the past couple of days, its sales rep, Steven Beer, expects to watch that buzz build before he's able to sell the film. "We're in mile eight of a 26-mile marathon," Beer told Mr. Showbiz today. "I think this is a film that we'll sell after the festival, primarily because there are not any big names attached to it. I also think it's a bit edgy and at the moment, it seems that distributors are paying more attention to flashier films."

While we can't wholly disagree with Beer, one of the most explicit, provocative films to play the festival in recent years is circling its wagons and fielding multiple offers. Raw Deal: A Question of Consent is a documentary focused on the sensational Gainesville, Fla., rape case of Lisa Gier King, who accused a University of Florida fraternity member of raping her, and another member of videotaping it. Her charges were contested, and Raw Deal presents both sides of the sensitive story. The movie is reportedly fielding interest from major distributors, indies, and cable television. Because of the controversial nature of the film, both in subject matter and content (the contested videotape is shown), striking any kind of deal will be complex and the details could take a while to iron out, according to a source involved with the talks.

Working the Mic It's become clear over the past few years that filmmakers can't just let their movies speak for them — they have to be pithy in front of a microphone as well. Documentarian Doug Pray, whose film about the Seattle music scene, Hype, played to accolades at the 1996 festival, returns this year with Scratch, a look at the history and artistry of hip-hop DJs and turntablism. Pray got up to introduce his 10 p.m. screening Friday evening and said that his sole goal in making the film was "to make a movie that would get into Sundance, where you would not have to turn off your cell phones before the movie started." His goal was accomplished to a booming soundtrack from Dilated Peoples, the Jurassic 5, Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike, Grand Mixer DXT, Steinski, the X-ecutioners, and others.

During the Q&A session for Margarita Happy Hour, Ilya Chaiken discussed the difficulties of filming such an intimate story with a cast that includes multiple infants and toddlers. She revealed that the main characters were introduced to their on-screen daughter as Mommy and Daddy. "That was the real mommy's idea," Chaiken said. "I don't want to be responsible for that child's therapy bills."

Four Parties, One Night

While we only made it to four parties Monday evening (yes, four parties), there was a definite shift in people's energy levels as the circuit kicked into high gear post-weekend. Music rights organization Broadcast Music Inc. threw its annual condo party, where composers like Danny Elfman chatted up musicians and filmmakers. The premiere of Michael Apted's Enigma brought out the celebs — including film producers Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger and star Jeremy Northam — to a Gap-sponsored affair up in Deer Valley.

Down the mountain at the American Foundation for AIDS Research's annual Cinema Against AIDS benefit, celebrity hosts Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman welcomed guests including Valerie Bertinelli, Sam Neill, Kyle McLachlan, Bruce Dern, and Julie Delpy. While tickets to the event were $2,000 a pop, more than one attendee was overheard questioning whether anyone actually paid to attend. The Independent Film Channel party at the Riverhorse Café was a decidedly less formal affair, where celebs like Sam Rockwell, Corbin Bernsen, and Daphne Zuniga ate, drank, and danced with filmmakers and Sundance regulars.

While many of the special people — um, not us — got invited to VH1's annual private party, the Showbiz contingent stopped by the least formal of Sundance parties yet, an all-night dance party at Club Creation, where the animated midnight movie Wavetwisters was being fêted by DJs including Q-Bert, Craze, Ming&FS, and WishFM. We shook our booties and felt old amid the under-21, decidedly un-Sundance crowd.

Nods to the 'Process' As the independent film industry grows from infancy into adulthood and directors get more comfortable in their roles, they have also developed a knack for inside jokes that play very well to the film crowd at Sundance. Three films we've caught over the past few days have made us, and audiences, chuckle at their irreverence: In Kasi Lemmon's Caveman's Valentine, the gofer to a pretentious artist suspected of murder (Colm Feore) is constantly carrying around a digital video camera, documenting everyone and everything. "He's a filmmaker," Feore's character remarks drolly to his guests at a party, "I can't seem to get rid of him."

In Sundance veteran Tom DiCillo's Double Whammy, a caricatured white homeboy, who is writing a screenplay with his buddy with the hopes of taking it to Cannes, uses his Sundance Film Festival tote bag to stop a murderer. And in Vanessa Middleton's 30 Years to Life, down-on-his-luck comedian Tracy Morgan is forced to audition for The Colonial Williamsburg Project. The film features three African-American students travelling to Williamsburg with a video camera to investigate rumors that there are still slave owners in the sleepy colonial town and, perhaps … murder.