With the exception of two high-dollar, high-profile deals (days after Fox Searchlight spent a lamentable $10 million on Little Miss Sunshine, Warner Independent invested $6 million on Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep), the market in Park City was almost non-existant. Sure, a few films sold – Lionsgate surprised no one by picking up genre flick Right at Your Door; The Night Listener's topicality probably helped coax the new Miramax into a non-committal $3 million buy – but a lot didn't, and for once, the critical establishment and the money men seemed to be on the same side: though Sundance 2006 offered quite a few films worth seeing, it was hard to find much to get excited about. That strange silence flooding the Yarrow lobby every afternoon? That was the sound of a conspicuous lack-of buzz.
Variety's Todd McCarthy says the problem was two-fold. For one thing, the films on this year's competition slate failed to impress because they were almost universally amateurish in execution. With the exception of my beloved Wristcutters (which he calls "the only dramatic competition picture I saw that could hold its own internationally...a modest film, to be sure, but one with its own distinct personality"), McCarthy blasts mosts of this year's drab, video-shot features for being "visually clueless." "I don't know if working on video instead of 35mm film has anything to do with the lack of visual adventurousness on the part of the young filmmakers today," McCarthy continues, "But I see no one who even aspires to work in the imagistic or poetic vein of Coppola, De Palma, Cronenberg, Spielberg, Scorsese, Malick or any of the other directors who came up from the low-budget ranks to become virtuosos of the camera." It's hard not to agree with this lament – many of the features I saw ranged from adequately designed (Stay) to outright ugly (Flannel Pajamas).
Second problem: If Sundance is, as festival programmer Geoff Gilmore told me, a "discovery festival", then couldn't discoveries be easier to make? As McCarthy writes: "Sundance has become the most user-unfriendly festival of any significance." He goes on to rail against screenings starting late, "better restaurants" booking a week in advance (a problem I sadly didn't face), and the festival's spread-out venues (an annoyance to be sure, but Sundance at its worst is 10 times easier to navigate than Tribeca at its best). Now, here is where you're advised to get out your violin: "This was my 20th consecutive year at Sundance," McCarthy continues, "And I thought I knew all the tricks. Well, the tricks don't work anymore, and the bottom line for critics and acquisitions executives is that all the logistical problems -- from being unable to get quickly from one screening to another or to make your way past a dozen Paris Hilton wannabes wherever you go -- makes it very difficult just to do your job."
It's hard for me to sympathise with such whining over logistics – I personally had very little problem seeing 2-3 films a day, – but I have to agree with McCarthy's first point: it would have been nice if more than 2 or 3 of those films were worth raving over.