By DONALD PORTER
SALT LAKE CITY – Left Coast chic and hometown conservatism met head-on at the opening of the 15th Sundance Film Festival Thursday evening.
The occasion was the world premiere screening of “Into the West,” an Irish-American co-production that marked the beginning of 10 days of what organizers hope will be the best and most representative of this year’s crop of American independent films.
At a reception in the Utah Arts Center prior to the premiere, the Basic Black Crowd – filmmakers, film company employees and assorted others who wear black to fit in – literally rubbed elbows with festival sponsors, reporters and many Utah lawmakers taking a break from their duties up the street at the State Capitol Building. The tinkling of champagne glasses and the snarfing of finger food went hand-in-hand with discussions of all things related to film and the festival.
Gov. Mike Leavitt stopped by to congratulate the Sundance Institute for its efforts; Sundance has been running the festival since 1985. Leavitt stressed that the Beehive State’s quality of life is one of its prime assets, and that “a large part of that is quality of art in every form.”
Gary Beer, president of the Sundance Institute, remarked that ticket sales for 1993 have exceeded all past festivals, and that some 300 media representatives from around the world will be covering this year’s gathering.
Additionally, Beer said, approximately 6,000 filmmakers, industry professionals and movie fans will descend on Park City during the next week or so, depositing an estimated $6 million into the local economy.
Then the action moved across West Temple Street to the Crossroads Cinemas for the screening of “Into the West.” In remarks prior to the screening, the movie’s less-than-effusive star, Gabriel Byrne, called the film “a labor of love,” adding, “We are very proud that it’s been chosen as the opening night film for your prestigious festival.” Then he added, almost cautiously, “It's a genuine family film.”
And so it is: Directed by Mike Newell (“Enchanted April”) and written by Jim Sheridan (director
of “My Left Foot”), “Into the West” is a film about two motherless boys, their hard-drinking father (Byrne) and a beautiful white horse that leads them all on a wild chase from Dublin to Ireland’s western coast. It’s a sure sign of the gathering’s growing all-inclusiveness that the festival would kick off with a heartwarmer of a movie that’s safe for the kiddies.
The festival’s stature is unmatched in its importance among American independents – those films made outside the film centers of Los Angeles and New York, and without major studio financial support. In 1985, Beer acknowledged, “the pickings were slim” at Sundance. Now the festival is the place where Hollywood comes fishing for new talent, waving money for distribution deals and hiring new directors and writers.
“Into the West” already has an American distributor, Miramax Films Corp. But most of the films playing in the dramatic and documentary competitions during the festival don’t, so their directors and/or producers will be hoping for success at Sundance and, consequently, a bright future ahead.
Today, the festival moves to Park City, with alternate screenings at the Sundance Resort and Salt Lake City’s Tower Theatre.