FILM FEST ’85: SUNDANCE TAKES OVER - Blogs
FILM FEST ’85: SUNDANCE TAKES OVER
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the Sundance Film Festival kicking off this weekend, it only seems fitting to take a look back at the 1985 festival. You may well ask, why 29 years instead of 30? In 1985 the Sundance Institute took over the United States Film Festival in everything but name (the official ‘Sundance Film Festival’ moniker came in 1991). Here are excerpts from my 1984-85 Deseret News stories on the festival.
Sundance Institute will manage the U.S. Film Festival (July 29, 1984): The Sundance Institute is taking over administration of the United States Film and Video Festival, and the first order of business will be lopping off the latter half of that title.
As it was originally, the festival becomes again the United States Film Festival, and the “video” portion, overseen by the Utah Media Center, will become its own entity, to be displayed at another time and place sometime during the year.
That was the announcement made by Sterling Van Wagenen, executive director of the Sundance Institute; Jenny Walz, managing director of the Institute, and now director of the festival as well; and Saundra Saperstein, of Utah Film Development, who will handle publicity for the festival.
The move by the Sundance Institute to take over the Park City festival’s administrative duties and fund-raising efforts was a practical one, they explained, to help the festival become solvent and to oversee its growth as an national influence in promoting American independent film, which has always been the festival’s primary goal.
And despite the surprise announcement that the video portion of the festival would be dropped, Van Wagenen emphasized that the Utah Media Center will still be involved in the festival itself. “But a film festival should be a film festival, and the video really has no part in that.”
Van Wagenen also said the committee recognizes problems with showcasing films in Park City, and a top priority will be improving projection and sound quality in whatever facilities are used there — whether the Egyptian Theater and Holiday Cinemas III, as in the past, or other facilities that might be found. “The festival simply cannot go another year with marginal projection and sound.”
Walz and Van Wagenen admitted that income generated by moviegoers could certainly be enhanced if the festival moved back to Salt Lake City, but they feel the ambiance and isolated community feeling that Park City provides is important to the success of the festival. And the ski resorts help pull in members of the film industry, as well.
An impressive lineup this year for Utah’s U.S. Film Festival (Jan. 6, 1985): The lineup of movies to be shown during the United States Film Festival is really impressive this year, from Woody Allen’s latest to a number that have received rave reviews in their preliminary openings, such as “Paris, Texas.”
And the independent competition pictures also look quite strong, representing what talented filmmakers can do on a shoestring budget.
The festival begins on a Friday, Jan. 19, and the opening-night premiere is “The Falcon and the Snowman,” John Schlesinger’s film based on the true story of two young men who were imprisoned for selling secrets to Russia. Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn star, and the publicity-shy Penn will make a rare personal appearance.
“Mrs. Soffel,” another true story, this one about a warden’s wife (Diane Keaton) falling in love with a prisoner (Mel Gibson), will be shown the second night, and Sunday it’s Sam Shepard’s “Paris, Texas,” about an aging wanderer (Harry Dean Stanton) trying to pull his scattered family back together, with Nastassja Kinski.
The next weekend will bring “Mass Appeal,” based on the stage play about Catholic priests, with Jack Lemmon, and “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” Woody Allen’s latest comedy (with an unknown storyline, as usual), which he wrote and directed, with Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels (Allen does not appear in this one).
Among the competition films are “Almost You,” a romantic comedy with Griffin Dunne and Brooke Adams; the darkly humorous “Blood Simple”; John Sayles’ offbeat sci-fi comedy “The Brother from Another Planet”; and “Stranger Than Paradise,” which has been getting rave reviews and was on a couple of critics “best 10” lists at the end of the year.
For film buffs and stargazers alike, Park City’s big festival offers something for everyone (Jan. 18, 1985): By broadening the scope of this year’s United States Film Festival in Park City, managing director Tony Safford hopes to offer a program diverse enough to attract any moviegoer’s interest.
“There really is something for everyone,” Safford says. “Everything from ghoulish black comedy to avant-garde comedy, romantic drama and romantic comedy, political intrigue — there’s such a great terrain of issues and styles being offered that everybody and anybody should come to the festival.”
And with the exception of the premieres, and a few other films that were simply held too tightly by distributors, most of the movies to be shown in the Egyptian Theater and the Holiday Cinemas III in Park City this year will have more than one screening, many competition films having three.
Stargazers will be interested in some of the celebrities attending the festival this year. At Friday’s 8 p.m. world premiere of “The Falcon and the Snowman” in the Plitt Centre Theater downtown (the last major event that will occur there before the Centre is torn down this spring), in attendance will be Robert Redford, whose Sundance Institute is sponsoring the festival; Sean Penn, who stars with Timothy Hutton in “The Falcon and the Snowman”; and Penn’s girlfriend Elizabeth McGovern, who co-starred with Penn in “Racing With the Moon” and was part of Redford’s ensemble in “Ordinary People.”
Others scheduled to make appearances during the Park City events include Patrick Duffy, best known as Bobby Ewing on TV’s “Dallas,” who stars in one of the competing films, “Vamping”; Nick Mancuso, whose “Heartbreakers” is also in competition; Tab Hunter, who stars in “Lust in the Dust,” a Western spoof directed by Paul Bartel; Jonathan Demme, director of “Melvin and Howard,” “Swing Shift” and the upcoming Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense”; and Joe Dante, who had a megahit this past summer with “Gremlins.”
As usual, many of the independent filmmakers whose movies are scheduled will also be in Park City, to introduce and discuss their work.
Festival ’85 marks the seventh year for the United States Film Festival, and though there is a broader range of the types of movies to be shown, they still seem to be independent, regardless of their trappings.
One coup, for example, is Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose of Cairo.” If there is any filmmaker who is independent, while managing to stay in the Hollywood mainstream, it is Allen.
Other premiere films include “Paris, Texas,” an independently made movie that has received wide distribution and great critical acclaim; “Mrs. Soffel,” with Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson, and directed by Australian Gillian Armstrong, the independent filmmaker who did “My Brilliant Career”; “Way Down East,” the premiere of the restored 1920 D.W. Griffith classic, starring Lillian Gish, which has not been shown in this more complete version for decades; and “Mass Appeal,” starring Jack Lemmon.
The “International Showcase” includes such films as the U.S. premiere of “Les Ripoux,” a French farce about two Paris policemen; Japanese-Chinese co-production “The Go-Masters”; the British “The Gold Diggers,” with Julie Christie; “The Killing Fields,” which also opens in Salt Lake City Friday; Italian director Lina Wertmuller’s latest film, “A Joke of Destiny”; “Secret Honor,” a one-man show about Richard Nixon, directed by Robert Altman; Werner Herzog’s German film “Where the Green Ants Dream”; another comedy by Paul Bartel, “Not For Publication,” with Nancy Allen; and many others.
The documentary competition seems particularly strong this year, with such films as “The Times of Harvey Milk,” “America and Lewis Hine,” “Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World,” “Seventeen,” “Streetwise” and “The World of Tomorrow” looking especially strong.
On the dramatic side, the benefit of solid advance reviews should have audiences looking forward to “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Heartbreakers,” “Blood Simple,” “A Flash of Green,” “The Brother from Another Planet” and “The Roommate,” but again, all of the entries look like sure bets.
End Note: Next Friday: How the ’85 festival turned out.