Thursday, June 21, 2018
Movies

3 Florida filmmakers catch Sundance Film Festival spotlight

For 34 years the Sundance Film Festival has been the place where independent filmmakers go to thrive. Maybe lightning strikes immediately. Sometimes it's the kick start an artist needs, that won't reach cruising speed until years later.

For these three Florida filmmakers, the Sundance Film Festival is a memory to build a career upon, a means but hopefully not the end.

• • •

Andy Nguyen didn't know who was watching his short film Boomerang at Sundance last month. But they all knew him. Playboy Enterprises and Bombay Sapphire gin made sure of that.

Nguyen, 24, a Seffner native enrolled in Columbia University's film school, won the first Imaginative Filmmakers Spotlight contest, sponsored by the magazine and distillery, and celebrated at a splashy dinner party. His short film Boomerang earned a $3,500 prize and an insiders audience.

"I figured they were friends of the organizers filling seats," Nguyen said by telephone. "Then later, you know, I'm a nosy person so I looked at a piece of paper that said who these people were, and where they were from: William Morris (Agency), Sony Pictures Classics, the Weinstein Company, all these huge names in the business. That's, like, the dream of a filmmaker."

Not bad since Boomerang cost only $200 to produce, shot in one day using equipment borrowed from Columbia. Hedging his entry, Nguyen also made it count as a class project. Nguyen recently completed his senior thesis film, Forever in Hiatus, that Lincoln Center will screen in May. After his brief taste of stardom, things are back to normal — and uncomfortable.

"I don't even have a bed in my apartment," Nguyen said. "The first time I've slept in a bed (lately) was when they put me up in a hotel at Sundance."

• • •

This year's Sundance breakout was Beasts of the Southern Wild, about an imaginative girl named Hushpuppy living in a bayou ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Fox Searchlight picked up distribution rights for Behn Zeitlin's fantasy drama, co-written by Monticello native Lucy Alibar.

"I don't think any of us — certainly not me — let ourselves think about how it would be received," Alibar, 29, said in a telephone interview. "I hadn't let myself go there."

The script sprang from Alibar's play Juicy and Delicious, inspired by her father, former St. Petersburg resident Baya Harrison. Harrison suffered from heart problems and cancer when she wrote it. Like Hushpuppy, she worried about a fatherless future.

"If the life cycle works like it's supposed to, you'll live through the death of your parents," Alibar said. "But at first the thought of losing him was so jarring I wasn't prepared for it at all. The play was me exploring that."

• • •

Adam Bowers' Sundance break came in 2010, with the debut of New Low, his comedy that recently won the Amsterdam Film Festival's top prize. For typical indie reasons, the former Dunedin resident wasn't there.

"That's the real bummer of working with a movie you make for $2,000," said Bowers, 27 and now based in L.A. "When you make it for that little, it's because you don't really have anything to spend on traveling around."

Meanwhile, Bowers participated in the Independent Film Project and Emerging Visions program for rising filmmakers that included mentoring by Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

"We've kept in touch a little bit, but he's a busy guy," Bowers said. So is Bowers, with pre-production on his second feature, We're a Wasteland, in full swing.

"It'll still be a real small movie compared to most; under $1 million but compared to New Low that's astronomical," he said.

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