Out of Nowhere, 'Anywhere' Finds a Home at Sundance
Monday, January 28, 2008
PARK CITY, UTAH -- Sundance, the festival that erupts here every winter and has come to represent the El Dorado, Disney World and spring break of independent filmmaking, is always accused of getting the films wrong, often by people who don't have any alternatives to suggest. So the festival, which ended Saturday, took a bit of a preemptive tack this year. Along with enough eco-disaster films to sink a Greenpeace ship, it slotted a number of movies that fulfill what many have thought was part of the festival's mission: showcasing cinema made not only outside the studio system but by people who may be out of their minds.
Chusy Haney-Jardine is not out of his mind. Far from it. But in the snowy reaches of Park City, he represented the most radical view imaginable: He made an almost thoroughly noncommercial -- no, anti-commercial -- movie, didn't expect distribution and seemed perfectly happy to have made the film he wanted to make.
"I came totally prepared for self-distribution," said the 42-year-old Venezuelan-born director, who now lives in Asheville, N.C. "I didn't have any of that 'I'm gonna get 5 million dollars!!' None of that. Ultimately, I said, 'This film needs a festival run, maybe some critical kudos and some of what I call sneezers.' "
"The people who say, 'Achoo, that's good,' and other people get a little bit of spittle on them and then they say, 'Hey, this is a pretty good movie . . . ' "
Haney-Jardine's film -- "Anywhere, USA," a comedy in three absurd acts -- is a most unlikely Sundance entry, partly because virtually the entirety of U.S. cinema has become so constipated and conservative. The more accustomed audiences become to formulaic fare, the fewer filmmakers dare to innovate, ergo the tougher time Sundance has in finding work that's off the aesthetic grid. So Sundance seems as happy to have Haney-Jardine as he is to be here. (On Saturday, he earned the "Special Jury Prize: Dramatic, the Spirit of Independence" for his "wildly original" work.)
"I'm a real fan," said Geoff Gilmore, the festival's longtime program director said earlier in the week. "It's very interesting and eclectic, and it's what we should be showing. If I can't find films like 'Anywhere, USA' and 'Downloading Nancy' [another dramatic-competition entry] and put them in our theaters and have an audience engage with them, I'm not doing my job. That's our mission."
And how have those audiences been engaging with "Anywhere, USA"?
"It's certainly intrigued people."
In "Anywhere," rednecks in a trailer park interpret a pistachio as a sign of a coming terrorist attack -- it's a Middle Eastern nut, after all. In another segment, a well-to-do white man has a mid-dinner epiphany -- "I don't know any black people!" he says, and sets out to correct the situation. In the middle chapter, an orphaned little girl (played by Haney-Jardine's spectacular daughter Perla) is going to learn there's no tooth fairy.
It's a lesson similar to what a lot of filmmakers have learned while trudging through the snows of Utah. But the drafty $400 hotel rooms, $20 parking fees and $85 prix fixe dinners haven't changed the fact that Sundance is a kind of Ellis Island for the refugee auteur. Haney-Jardine certainly believed in the dream.
"I had just cashed in my last 401(k) and had the stub in my hand," he said, recalling the day last fall when he found out he was in. "I got this phone call from Sundance. I really thought it was going to be, 'Well, we liked your film, but . . .' When they told me, I fell down. I couldn't control myself."