By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 10, 2011 at 9:07AM
The Sundance Institute mounted an A-list fundraiser in the dark woods at Franklin Canyon last week, complete with music by Fitz and the Tantrums. Sundance founder Robert Redford gave his trademark speech--which he delivers charmingly--about how he saw the need to counteract the prevailing studio trends with a support system for indies, starting with mentor workshops that eventually lead to a place to showcase the work--the Sundance Film Festival.
Writer-producer-actress Brit Marling continued to woo fans and followers with delightful testimony about how much Sundance meant to her and her two directors, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij, who made Another Earth and The Sound of My Voice, respectively, on shoestring budgets and were then welcomed--and careers launched--by the supportive Sundance community. Fox Searchlight acquired both films and is backing Marling and Batmanglij's next effort, The East, a drama about a woman who infiltrates an anarchist group.
Others on hand included Sundance executive director Keri Putnam (pictured above right with Redford and Satter, left), Warners' Alan Horn, Disney's Sean Bailey, Fox Searchlight's Tony Safford, Lionsgate's Joe Drake, Roadside Attractions' Howard Cohen and Eric D'Arbeloff, filmmakers Kimberly Peirce, Lisa Cholodenko, John August, John Lee Hancock, Kasi Lemmons, Miguel Arteta, Scott Frank, Steve Gaghan, Stacy Peralta and Ondi Timoner, actors Anna Kendrick, Mike White, Clark Gregg and Don Cheadle, EW editor Jess Cagle, Participant's Ricky Strauss, producers Jim Stern, Steve Golin, Cotty Chubb, Zanne Devine, Laura Bickford, and Jason Blum, agents Graham Taylor and Joel Lubin, and composer James Newton Howard. Many talked of the challenges of the indie market today, with Disney and Paramount making layoffs. Word is, ex-Paramount acquisitions exec Matt Brodlie may land on his feet at Tom Ortenberg's new distrib, Open Road.
While the Sundance fest, now led by director John Cooper, makes a lot of noise, the quiet engine behind the Sundance writing and directing labs has always been the founding director of the feature film program of the Sundance Institute, Michelle Satter; Sundance gave her its first Vanguard Award and a fitting video tribute (below) celebrating the program's 30th anniversary; several filmmakers spoke warmly on her behalf, including Jane Eyre's Cary Fukunaga.
Satter really has made quite an impact on independent film. Another great tribute speech for Satter, from the women's angle, was given by filmmaker Tamara Jenkins on the occasion of Satter getting the Women in Film 2007 Leadership Award. "Michelle shows up at a critical time in a fledgling filmmaker’s life—a stage in their careers when they are often described as “emerging” or more simply put—unemployed," she said, calling the lab "a sort of FRESH AIR FUND FOR FILMMAKERS..."
This a place where fellow film people actually want you to do well. This is a place where established filmmakers roam around the mountains helping less experienced filmmakers figure out the best way to execute their stories. This is a place where you are genuinely encouraged to take artistic risks and you are applauded even when you stumble. This is a place where for 4 weeks actors and directors and writers at all different points in their careers get to rehearse, shoot, edit and screen scenes from their works-in-progress. They talk about the work, critique it and then go back the next day and do it all over again. The Sundance Lab was the best film school I ever went to. I learned more there in 4 weeks than I did in 3 years of Graduate School...Michelle works in mysterious ways: She is a coach. A film lover. An arts educator. An architect. A nurturer of neurotics. A producer. An enabler. A reader. A critic. A fan. A guidance councilor. A rare and generous person in a business that isn’t famous for it’s generosity."