The death of Heath Ledger cast a shadow over the fest's first day of major purchases
Credit: Jessica Miglio

Reported from Park City by Vanessa Juarez, Gregory Kirschling, Whitney Pastorek, Missy Schwartz, Sean Smith, and Adam B. Vary

Sundance 2008 was just starting to emerge from its day-5 lull — with word of Oscar nominations for festival attendee Jason Reitman’s indie hit Juno, the announcements of several big sales, and fresh hope that audiences outside of Park City might actually get to see the movies that have played here — when the terrible news struck. The death of Heath Ledger hit festival-goers hard. A muted calm descended over certain events (honestly, did anybody really feel like partying?), while an awkward episode at one late-day screening outraged audience members. Sundance soldiered on, but it will likely remain a day that many in town won’t forget.

A sad screening
Shortly after he wowed the crowd with his portrayal of a cocky Internet CEO in director Austin Chick’s August, Josh Hartnett took the stage at the Library Center theater with his cast- and crew-mates for the standard audience Q&A. One questioner, however, chose the opportunity to ask the actor to comment on Ledger’s passing, a move that prompted boos from fellow viewers. But Hartnett responded with grace, commenting that Ledger’s death is a great loss for the movie industry.

Back in business
The day had begun on a high note, with news of the festival’s first major sales boom. Focus snapped up rights to the high school-set Steve Coogan comedy Hamlet 2 for an estimated $10 million — a dollar total rivaling that which was spent on previous Park City hits like Little Miss Sunshine and Hustle and Flow. Additionally, Fox Searchlight purchased the rights to the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke for a reported $5 million, and upstart Overture bought U.S. rights to the dramedy Henry Poole Is Here for a reported $3.5 million. Prior to that, Hollywood had swept in and swiped up just two movies through the first five days of the festival.

Beam us off this mountain, Scotty!
Way up here in Utah’s Wasatch range, meanwhile, was still smiling from its probing Q&A with Bottle Shock star Chris Pine — that’s right, the new Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Oh yeah: We asked, he answered, we got the scoop, and it didn’t even take a mind-meld!

Hanks for the memory
Also on the receiving end of our rapid-fire question cannons: Colin Hanks, star of The Great Buck Howard and son of, well, you know (we might have asked him about his dad, just a bit); and the cool kids from the festival’s buzziest documentary, American Teen. Seriously, it really is a gem of a movie — so says our critic (who also adored the ”beautiful” comedy Momma’s Man).

What’s that noise? Anybody see a bee?
Honestly, at Sundance, the buzz is relentless. Day, night, awake, asleep — you can always hear that perpetual din of chatter about which movie’s up and which film folks want to boot down the mountain. So we checked in on two movies that people were yapping about: the bittersweet comedy Diminished Capacity, starring Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen, and Alan Alda; and the quirky comedy Pretty Bird, which seemed to leave many moviegoers in bewilderment rather than stitches.

And finally tonight, ladies and gentlemen, George Lopez
The comedian and Henry Poole costar, still pumped from his film’s big sale earlier in the day, kindly sat down to write a guest blog on PopWatch: ”this place ROCKS !!! 6000 feet at the top of a mountain is the last place a chicano from los angeles thought he would ever be … but that’s what makes america the greatest country in the world.” We couldn’t have put it any better ourselves.

(Compiled by Joshua Rich)