It may be the thin air, but people up here in the choking cold of Park City, Utah actually take buzz seriously. It's a tangible commodity, like pork bellies or money.
Last year at this festival, a John Cusak film about the slow implosion of an Iraq War widower had great buzz. The Weinstein Company bought Grace Is Gone for $4 million, then released in theatres to the echoing sound of only $37,000. Nobody wanted to see Cusack slumped over in a downer war movie that didn't even have any blood in it.
Dan Klores's buzz documentary Crazy Love suffered suffered a similar plunge when it came down from the mountain to real-world audiences. In fact, of last year's Sundance crop, there was only one film that went on to a combination of adoring audiences, universal critical acclaim and box office earnings of 50 times what it cost to make. That film was Once, the Irish busking romance (and my top film of 2007). At Sundance it had zero buzz. It was bought for a relatively paltry $150,000. It did $10 million.
The fact is it's hard to predict the future success of one-offs like Once or Napoleon Dynamite, which premiered here in 2004 to good response but nothing like the epoch-defining roar it came to take on.
The only recent film where buzz, money and reality all lined up was Little Miss Sunshine. Sundance audiences loved it -- true comedies are rare here -- and Fox Searchlight bought it for a fat $10 million. It went on to $100 million in ticket sales and four Academy Award nominations.
But Little Miss Sunshine is exactly what's wrong with Sundance these days. It came to Park City masquerading as a quirky independent film, but with Hollywood cashbox Steve Carrell in a starring roles, how indie could it be? Wrap the same movie in a big studio marketing campaign and launch it mid-summer and it begins to look like something from the Olsen sisters oeuvre.
But that's buzz for ya.
So instead of wondering whether Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind will top the Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Choke, or whether Marianna Palka's Good Dick will match last year's Teeth, better to not feed the buzz machine. Nothing really starts until Martin McDonagh's In Bruges opens the festival tonight, with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson playing two gangsters cooling their heels in a medieval Flemish town. Then there's a party, tongues will loosen and the buzz will flow.