Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Women who Shone at Sundance

Women directors picked up several of the top prizes at Sundance this year, and others picked up distribution deals.

Courtney Hunt's Frozen River won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama. Reviews for the film about smuggling illegal immigrants describe it as a "powerful must-see film" and domestic rights were purchased by Sony Classics.

Courtney Hunt celebrates with her Strong Female Lead Melissa Leo

Tia Lessin and her husband Carl Deal won the Grand Jury Prize - Documentary for Trouble the Water, their documentation of their first-hand experience of the New Orleans flooding.

Nanette Burstein's American Teen won the Directing Award for Documentary, and Paramount picked it up for $1 million. Burstein's first film On the Ropes had won Special Jury Prize for Documentary in 1997, and went on to be nominated for an Oscar. This year Lisa F. Jackson garnered that Special Jury Prize: Documentary for her hard-hitting The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.

Meanwhile, in the World Cinema category, Anna Melikyan won the Drama Directing award for Mermaid, a dreamy fairy tale set in Moscow. Mermaid was the only Russian film at the festival. Irena Dol won for WC Documentary Editing of Pietra Brettkelly's The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins.

Although it didn't win any awards, Sugar, by Anna Boden with partner Ryan Fleck from Half-Nelson, was one of the most popular dramatic films, for its story of Dominican immigrants and their baseball star dreams. I was going to say it was probably the only film to get coverage at MLB.com, but Susan Koch's documentary Kicking It, about the Homeless World Cup, will be broadcast and distributed by ESPN.

Marina Zenovich made a splash with her documentary Wanted and Desired about the controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski. She cut two separate deals with Weinstein and HBO for distribution. A very different documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North was purchased by PBS for its POV series. The film covers a trip taken by filmmaker Katrina Browne and extended family members, decendants of trade dealers, tracing the slave trade.

The comedy Hamlet 2, co-written by Pam Brady (South Park, Hot Rod) and director Andy Fleming, was snapped up by Focus for $10 mill in the biggest deal at the festival.

Japanese filmmaker Aiko Nagatsu won one of three Sundance/NHK International Filmmaker Awards for her film Apoptosis. Nagatsu received $10,000 and NHK's purchase of Japanese television broadcast rights. She'll also get help from the Sundance Institute for further financing and distribution.

125 features were selected (from 3,600 submitted!) for the 2008 Sundance festival. Of these, exactly one in five (25) were directed/co-directed by women. Nine more had a woman writer. However, 18 of the 32 films that were in competition had a woman as director (16) or writer (14). Of these, the great majority were documentaries. Only Hunt's Frozen River and Melikyan's Mermaid were in drama categories.

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