Tales of greed, excess meet mild response at Sundance

Wed Jan 25, 2012 3:16pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Stories of Americans learning the effects of greed and excess or struggling in a weak economy have tried to captivate audiences at this year's Sundance Film Festival but without one standout, sweeping success.

As the event crossed its midway point by Wednesday, several movies had sold to distributors yet some that came with media buzz and star appeal into the top U.S. festival for independent film have failed to win acclaim or shown commercial appeal.

The focus on dark subjects is typical of indie filmmaking, but it contrasts to the escapist fare and hopeful tales for which audiences haved longed at theaters in recent years of recession and joblessness. That fact had distributors concerned.

"We have seen a lot of films that we like, but there is a question on the commerciality of most of them. There is a lot of deliberations going on with what they are worth," said Michael Barker, co-chief of Sony Pictures Classics

Barker expects brisk business in the festival's second half with the number of deals possibly equaling last year's robust market, "but in dollar amounts, no. People are more cautious."

Still, there are some films hoping to break big here by urging audiences to greater personal and corporate responsibility. "Arbitrage," starring Richard Gere, is among the few movies seen as having commercial appeal with its timely morality tale borne of the financial crisis.

In the film, which also stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth, Gere plays a billionaire hedge fund magnate whose personal life crumbles amid a plot that is similar in parts to the Bernie Madoff scandal. Gere's character lies about company assets as he races to make even more money and save his family business.

"Madoff was clearly a very sick person," Gere told reporters about the comparison to the former Wall Street executive who now sits in a jail cell. He said everyday audiences should relate to issues of "greed, control, irresponsibility -- all those things that we all have to some degree."   Continued...

<p>A general view of Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 23, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>