Independent Film Collectives Break Through at Sundance 2012

Sundance 2012 may be remembered as the year that film collectives - groups of young filmmakers banding together to help each other with their filmmaking work - really broke through, winning critical acclaim and deals from established distributors.

According to a February 10th, 2012 Wall Street Journal article by Michelle Kung: "A new generation of filmmakers in their 20s and 30s are forming affiliated groups — with names like Court 13, Blue-Tongue Films and Borderline Films — to produce modestly budgeted films that are being acquired by studios like Fox Searchlight and IFC Films."

For example, Robot & Frank - a film starring Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief who resumes his old career when he's given a helper robot - premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was promptly acquired by Sony and Samuel Goldwyn Films. Robot and Frank was developed out of the Brooklyn‐based filmmaking collective, Waverly Films. The group (who met at NYU) includes Duncan Skiles, Christopher Ford, Jeff Kaplan, Ben Dickinson, Jon Watts, Aaron Wesner and Robot and Frank director Jake Schreier.

At least three other collective-produced films were acquired at Sundance 2012, including the New Orleans based Code 13's grand jury prize winner in the U.S. dramatic competition, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Fox Searchlight acquired Benh Zeitlin’s fantastical drama about a six-year-old girl who lives in a forgotten bayou community cut off from the rest of the world.

Also making a splash at Sundance 2012 was Australian collective Blue-Tongue's Wish You Were Here, which had its world premiere on opening night and was then acquired by Entertainment One. Blue-Tongue member Kieran Darcy-Smith directed this drama about four friends on an ill-fated South-East Asian holiday.

The New York based filmmaking collective known as Borderline Films took Sundance by storm in 2011 with Sean Durkin's unsettling cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. At Sundance 2012, IFC acquired a film by Anthonio Campos (another Borderline director), Simon Killer. Simon Killer is a neonoir thriller about a recent college grad who falls in love with a Parisian prostitute.

All these projects emerged from 21st century collectives - small groups of filmmakers sharing experiences, labor and ideas. As the motion picture business becomes more decentralized (you don't need permission from a studio to make a film), it seems that sharing a face-to-face connection with other artists (banding together in one physical place?) still matters.

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