That's what happened to Robert Bella's Colin Fitz, a 1997 Sundance hit that won praise from critics as diverse as Roger Ebert and Harry Knowles. The film, a comedy about a dead rock star's devoted fans, looked like it would be the next Sundance Cinderella story. But while distributors were interested, none could offer Bella a sale price that would actually cover what it had cost him -- and his creditors -- to make it. So the film sat in a storage unit while Bella worked to buy it back from his creditors.
This week, the film -- now fittingly retitled Colin Fitz Lives! -- is finally being released through Video On Demand by IFC Films and Sundance Selects, some 13 1/2 years after its world premiere. It had a gala screening Thursday night in Los Angeles, too, attended by Bella and one of the film's stars, William H. Macy. Bella wrote a terrific first-person account of the lengthy ordeal at IndieWIRE, a story that will either serve as an inspiration or a cautionary tale to would-be filmmakers.
For while Bella's saga has a well-deserved happy ending, he'd be the first to acknowledge that he's actually one of the lucky ones. Many Sundance films never see the light of day, not 13 years later, not ever. What happened to Robert Bella and Colin Fitz is miraculous! And if the movie gods are still listening, here are four more Sundance gems that could also use some divine intervention.
Dropping Out (2000) -- This was a very funny black comedy about the boredom of Generation X, in which a 26-year-old loser decides to make a movie that will end with his actual suicide, only to discover that the preparations give him something to live for. The director, Mark Osborne, went on to co-direct Kung Fu Panda; his brother, Kent Osborne, who wrote the screenplay and plays the lead, has since appeared in indie films like Hannah Takes the Stairs. (To certain South By Southwest attendees, he is legendary for a certain SXSW trailer he starred in.) Yet Dropping Out never made it to theaters, or even DVD.
The Prompter (Suffløsen) (2000) -- From Norway comes this sweet drama about a meek woman who works as an opera company's prompter: the person who sits in that little box at the front of the stage and cues actors on their lines. It's the only aspect of her life where she has any control, as she's just married a pig-headed fellow still hung up on his ex-wife. The film was Norway's submission for the Oscars that year, and it may have been released on video in its native land, but that's as far as it went.
Thirteen Steps (13 kaidan) (2003) -- The murder mystery in this thriller isn't great, but its bigger themes of redemption and forgiveness are extremely powerful. From Japan, it's about an aging prison guard who's hired to investigate a murder and takes along a recently released convict (who may have been innocent) to assist him. It got a small theatrical release in Japan and apparently nowhere else, and had a limited-pressing DVD that is now out of print.
Killing Time (2002) -- As far as I can tell, Sundance is the only place this film ever played. Shot on a tiny budget by writer/director Andrew Jaswinski, it's a low-key slacker comedy about a pothead traveling the length of Manhattan one day for a job interview. Its focus on dialogue and ideas rather than story reminded me of Clerks, though it isn't as funny or subversive. Surely there's an audience for a pleasant, hyper-real little flick like this, even eight years later.