From Sundance: the parties, the movies, and more. Paris Hilton and Patty Hearst cross paths while Ashton Kutcher and Zach Braff promote films during the Park City, Utah festival

By Scott Brown and Nancy Miller
Updated January 21, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Nick Carter, Paris Hilton, ...
Credit: Nick Carter and Paris Hilton: Mark Mainz/Getty Images/NewsCom
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From Sundance: the parties, the movies, and more

Forget about Parker Posey: The Sundance Film Festival has a new indie film queen, and her name is?Paris Hilton? That’s right, folks. Hilton, for better or for worse, became the scene stealer of Park City, Utah, taking the crown from last year’s one-woman circus, Britney Spears. True, the infamous hotel heiress did have a recent hit in her leggy night-vision masterpiece (still playing on very small screens everywhere). But honestly, how does the peroxided presence of the star of ”The Simple Life” (who hit the Park City party circuit Saturday night with new beau and former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, as well as partner-in-overalls Nicole Ritchie) promote the development of bold new independent films?

It doesn’t, according to Heather Matarazzo, and the Festival (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year) suffers for it. ”It’s changed a lot,” says the star of the 1996 Grand Jury Prize winner ”Welcome to the Dollhouse,” in town to promote her new indie ”Home of Phobia.” ”And it makes me sick.”

PARTY POLITICS Yes, ever-increasing commerciality is evident in brand-promoting, Festival-unaffiliated ”houses” for Diesel Jeans, Motorola, Skyy Vodka and many others. And yes, studio-made premieres often eclipse the actual competition entrants (as in the case of Ashton Kutcher’s hotly anticipated, tepidly received ”The Butterfly Effect”). And yes, Main Street looks like a Hummer dealership. But if you build it, they won’t always come: A-list celebs were scarce. (When Shannon Elizabeth and Lance Bass are your party’s selling point, as in the case of ICM’s downtown soiree, you know you’re in trouble.) Nonetheless, musicians Liz Phair, Nelly, Macy Gray, and Pete Yorn all played to enthusiastic throngs at Blender-sponsored concerts at Harry O’s. And who could miss Kutcher, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Christina Applegate, Matt Dillon, Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Mark Ruffalo, and Laura Dern milling around downtown? Traffic congestion and long restaurant waits put them in the same boat as the many civilian attendees.

WELCOME TO SHARK CITY Oh yeah, and there were movies, too. ”This festival is for you,” said founder Robert Redford, addressing filmmakers at the Park City premiere of the surfing documentary ”Riding Giants.” He spoke those words quite emphatically, as if to rebut the accusations of megalomania lobbed at him by Peter Biskind’s slyly timed Sundance expose, ”Down and Dirty Pictures.” (”Later on, I’ll be joining Harvey Weinstein at a book-signing party,” Redford quipped, referring to Biskind’s other indiewood persona non grata.)

Speaking of sharks — real ones — one of the fest’s early breakouts was ”Open Water,” a DV thriller about young marrieds quite literally at sea, with only the ocean’s toothiest inhabitants for company. Lions Gate snapped up the low-budget picture for a reported summer release. Meanwhile, Miramax and Fox Searchlight teamed up in an unusual deal to buy Zach Braff’s moody crowd pleaser ”Garden State” for a reported $5 million. Focus Features reportedly took North American rights to ”Motorcycle Diaries,” starring Y Tu Mamá También’s Gael Garcia Bernal as a young Che Guevara, for $4 million. The ”Rushmore”-esque ”Napoleon Dynamite” (from 24-year-old tyro Jared Hess) went to Fox Searchlight for a reported $3 million. Also in hot negotiations: ”The Woodsman,” in which Kevin Bacon delivers a terrific performance as a paroled child molester. The imminent deal reportedly includes Warner Independent and Sony.

WHAT’S UP? DOCS! Much like last year, when ”Capturing the Friedmans” rode to prominence here, documentaries generated the most grassroots excitement, as evidenced by surfing doc ”Riding Giants” (from ”Dogtown and Z-Boys” helmer Stacy Peralta), the first documentary in Sundance history to open the fest. It immediately ignited a bidding war between Sony Classics and Fox Searchlight. (Sony squeaked it out for a reported $2 million.) Another doc that’s been buzzed about (quite literally) is ”I Like Killing Flies,” a look at NYC restaurant institution Shopsin’s, from photographer Matt Mahurin. The unclassifiable quasi-doc ”Tarnation,” incorporating pop culture references with home video footage from the incredible life of filmmaker Jonathan Caouette, tells a story of family loyalty, unconditional love, and a musical version of ”Blue Velvet” — wrap your noggin around that one.

In Morgan Spurlock’s ”Supersize Me,” the filmmaker survives solely on fast food for 30 days. Its incendiary promotional postcards (featuring a roly-poly Ronald McDonald) and pins (golden arches with the word OBESITY underneath) have generated a lot of interest — and a betting pool over how long it will take McDonald’s to sue. Other notables include ”The Control Room,” an inside look at the Al Jazeera media network, and ”Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army.” SLA abductee and part-time guerrilla Patty Hearst, also in town to promote her movie ”Second Best,” showed up for a Q&A, providing some of the festival’s most surreal art-meets-life moments. And that, of course, is what Sundance is all about these days. Just ask Paris Hilton.

Garden State

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