Actress’ debut film as director chosen for festival’s gala
aaron harris/canadian press
Sarah Polley couldn’t be more delighted that her first feature film, Away From Her, is the choice for the Salt Lake City gala on Friday at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“They’ve been crazily supportive of me throughout my career and so it’s really nice to end up there with my first feature,” Polley says of the way Sundance embraced some of her shorter cinematic pursuits before she adapted an Alice Munro short story into Away From Her.
“I’ve always felt, oddly enough, like it was one of the only places I went where I was treated as a filmmaker and not an actress with a hobby.”
Nonetheless, the Canadian actress and director is also well aware that the buzz a film generates at Sundance doesn’t necessarily translate into success at the box office — and she doesn’t intend to worry about it while she hangs out in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah, to take in some of the 10-day festival that starts tomorrow.
“People lose a lot of sleep and waste a lot of energy trying to predict how a film will go over at Sundance, if people will like it, if it will get sold, what it will mean at the box office,” Polley says.
“And if you just look at the statistics, and try to analyze something, all you can come up with is that it’s completely unknowable and not very interesting.”
Away From Her tells the story of Grant and Fiona, a couple who have been married 45 years and, despite infidelity, are still sweetly in love only to find themselves torn apart by Alzheimer’s. It joins some 10 other Canadian productions appearing at the festival this year.
Some films — like last year’s Little Miss Sunshine, for example — are buoyed by the attention and the buzz heaped on them during Sundance, while others have made big splashes at the festival but gone on to flop at the box office.
Sundance, long respected as a showcase for independent cinema, has come under criticism in recent years when dubious stars like Paris Hilton started showing up, much to the reported dismay of founder Robert Redford. It was Redford’s intention more than 20 years ago to start up a film festival that was decidedly anti-Hollywood and low on glitz.
None of that matters to Wayne Clarkson, head of Telefilm Canada, who’s headed to Sundance tomorrow. The important thing is the interest and publicity a high-profile festival like Sundance can bring to the Canadian film industry, he says.
“I think it’s the biggest year yet we’ve had in terms of total films represented and I love the eclectic tastes represented in all of them,” Clarkson says.
Sundance, he adds, is the perfect place for Canadian films to make some waves.
“Sundance’s strength and power is independent American cinema so it works for us since so many Canadian films are independently produced,” Clarkson says. “Films like Fido and Away From Her already have U.S. distribution deals, so for those films, Sundance is really just to generate interest and what publicity and promotion they can get. But for other films, their U.S. rights are still open and they’re trying to get bought in the States and internationally.”