What You Need to Know From Sundance

Categories: Film and TV

Upstream Color
Bold, impassioned, ecstatically beautiful, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color -- a lyric reverie on loss, love, and various invasions of the body -- was in a class by itself at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Well, let's say it was a class shared by a more conventional but no less heady consideration of coupledom and the cosmos, Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, the third (but one hopes not the last) in Linklater's series of scintillating gabfests co-scripted with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

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Carruth's film -- his first since winning Sundance's Grand Jury Prize in 2004 for the garage-inventor time-travel opus Primer -- unsurprisingly divided critics and audiences with its fragmented, allusive semi-narrative involving parasitic worms and copious quotations from Thoreau's Walden. But this hypnotic, symphonic film, which calls to mind everything from Jacques Rivette's Paris Nous Appartient to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, undeniably gets under your skin, and it confirms its 40-year-old writer-director-producer-composer-editor-star as one of the singular talents in American movies today.

It also points to an ongoing paradigm shift in the indie film landscape: Heeding the gospel that indie gurus like producer Ted Hope and Filmmaker magazine editor Scott Macaulay have been preaching for years now, Carruth came to Sundance with a well-plotted distribution strategy for Upstream Color already in place, including theatrical bookings in some two-dozen markets and a near-simultaneous release on iTunes, Amazon and other video-on-demand platforms. The distributor? Carruth himself, nimbly dodging the Sundance meat market where, for every headline-grabbing seven-figure sale, there are dozens more in the five- and low-six-figure range -with few if any of those figures ever getting back to the actual filmmaker.

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