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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 14:45 GMT
The buzz at Sundance
Snow covers Park City during the Sundance festival
The BBC's New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook reviews the Sundance Film Festival, which ends this weekend.

While no must-see hit has emerged from this year's Sundance festival, several strong films have created that much-desired buzz.

Getting your film talked about is a top priority for the hundreds of filmmakers who have flocked to this ski resort in Park City, Utah, for an 11-day festival that has become the world's leading showcase for independent cinema.

An early favourite has been director Dan Minahan's dark comedy Series 7, a satire of reality TV.

Minahan very effectively portrays a fictional TV programme in which all the contestants are armed and shoot one another to death until a triumphant lone survivor remains.

Reality TV

With a new wave of reality TV shows arriving on US screens, Series 7 clearly taps into the zeitgeist.

Minahan's film is depressing and disturbing to watch, but it cleverly draws attention to the extreme psychological violence that reality TV shows routinely inflict on contestants.

Liz Hurley
Liz Hurley arrived to promote Double Whammy
Another strong and controversial film is The Believer. Based on a true story, it is a powerful portrait of an anti-Semitic fascist who happens to be Jewish.

It is not just the content of the film that has attracted attention. The performance of newcomer Ryan Gosling, who plays the neo-fascist protagonist, has also made a deep impression on festival-goers.

Sundance has also been inundated with big-name stars trying to promote their pet projects.

Whammy hit

Liz Hurley was in town throwing her weight behind director Tom DiCillo's comedy Double Whammy.

Hurley plays a chiropractor and love interest to a homicide detective portrayed by Denis Leary.

Although some critics were unimpressed by DiCillo's work, that didn't prevent Double Whammy from becoming one of the first films to secure a distributor during the festival.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger is one of Enigma's backers
Mick Jagger also came to town to show his support for Enigma, a British World War II codebreaking drama starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott.

Although Michael Apted directed the film, Jagger has nurtured the project for several years.

The ageing rock star explained his involvement with Enigma as, "babying it along, finding the writer, actors and the money".

When it comes to money Enigma has a $20m budget, gigantic by the standards of most Sundance pictures. Its presence at an independent film festival has raised a few eyebrows.

Some festival-goers have complained that the festival is losing its edge, with young directors coming into town with corporate backing, an army of publicity people and the support of big name stars.

The British actress, Tilda Swinton, who is appearing in a Sundance film, the drama The Deep End, fears that the world of independent film is changing and becoming too commercial.

She said: "Independent spirit can make people a lot of money, there's a transitional phase going on here and I think that we should all be very suspicious."

Technology boost

The evidence from Sundance this year also suggests that independent film, helped by new digital technology, is becoming more sophisticated.

Dougray Scott
Dougray Scott starts alongside Kate Winslet in Enigma
Donnie Darko, the debut feature from Richard Kelly, boasts impressive special effects that rival what is seen in big-budget Hollywood pictures.

Kelly's film, which stars Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze and Jake Gyllenhaal, is a convoluted story dealing with a troubled teenager and time travel.

But it looks stunning and the slick visual effects it boasts would have been unthinkable in an independent film just a few years ago.

A new style of cinema art has also emerged at Sundance with director Richard Linklater's animated film Waking Life.

Linklater has taken live action footage and through a computer transformed it into a surreal and original animated style that has mesmerised audiences.

So far, the festival's most controversial offering is the documentary Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, an expose of the alleged rape of an exotic dancer by male students at the University of Florida in 1999.

The film shows explicit footage recorded by participants which police said proved the dancer engaged in consensual sex.

It was a decision that infuriated women's rights activists. The film's director Billy Corben presents the explicit footage together with interviews in an effort to uncover the truth.

Gender theme

Gender confusion has emerged as a Sundance theme.

A popular hit has been Hedwig And the Angry Inch, an adaptation of a New York stage show which features a male survivor of a botched sex-change operation who dons a big wig and forms a rock band.

Another documentary, Southern Comfort, explores the last days of Robert Eads, a woman who became a man so effectively that he is referred to as a transgender cowboy.
Happy Texas
Sundance flop: Happy Texas

Eads, who lived in rural Georgia, died of cancer and the film chronicles the last year of his life.

It gives a compelling and unusually intimate look into the largely hidden world of the transgender community.

Overall it is not a bad year at Sundance, but the market for independent films has softened so the intense bidding wars that the festival was renowned for in the past have largely been absent.

Distributors have become nervous. A film may have a strong buzz at Sundance but that doesn't automatically translate into profits when it comes to selling it to a general audience.

Miramax Films, once a keen bidder at Sundance, has learnt the hard way.

Two years ago Miramax bid $11m on the comedy Happy Texas only to find that once out in the marketplace it only brought in a dismal $2m.

Not all festival acquired films incur such losses, but the sobering reality is that very, very few turn a profit.

But financial factors aside, this year's batch of Sundance films show that at least in terms of creativity independent film is still very much alive, and refreshingly different from Hollywood product.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Brook
"Some at the festival say Sundance is losing its edge"
See also:

07 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Enigma premières at Sundance
18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Sun rises on Redford's festival
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