SUNDANCE 2015: A Tale of Two Films (plus one!)

Hi all, Doug Blush again, still recovering from last week’s film screenings and reconnections with dozens of longtime filmmaker friends and heroes. The best part of Sundance, as I said in my blog last year, is actually not just the films…seeing premieres here is an incredible experience, to be sure…but the bonds that the independent film community makes at the events, on the streets, and even at the legendary Davanza’s Pizza place on Park Avenue (see photo!)


Some of our HUNTING GROUND crew hanging out at the mighty Davanza’s Pizza in Park City

On Friday January 23rd, we premiered the two films I worked on in the festival this year, THE HUNTING GROUND from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the team behind THE INVISIBLE WAR, and at the same exact time (gee, thanks schedulers!), SEMBENE, from directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, about the life and work of the “father” of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene (if you haven’t seen his films, do yourself a favor and find them!).

The HUNTING GROUND premiere was full of intense emotions, with a number of our campus assault survivor-activists in attendance, along with two US Senators and a completely packed house. We had a long standing ovation at the end as our survivors took the stage and spoke about their work to bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows and up for legislation and new rules. Like THE INVISIBLE WAR, this film was difficult to tackle, but so satisfying to see in the response it received…our second screening on Saturday morning got three standing ovations as the film ended and our survivors took the stage (and standing ovations are not the norm at Sundance, I can say from many years of experience). The film will be released theatrically soon, and will be broadcast on CNN later this year. Many campus screenings will be happening soon as well…one will likely be planned for USC, and you can pass the word on to others at


Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and a group of survivor activists at our HUNTING GROUND Q&A

SEMBENE has taken almost seven years to come to Sundance, and I was proud to be a consulting editor on the project. The film weaves the parallel stories of Sembene himself and his longtime biographer and friend, co-director Samba Gadjigo. The interplay of these two Senegalese intellectuals is set against the incredible images and ideas of Sembene’s films, which I barely knew about before i first saw the project. With his films and writing, Sembene fought against French colonialism, Islamic extremism, government corruption, racial and gender inequalities and many other issues, all with a uniquely African sense of image, pace and idealism. The Q&A for the film’s Saturday screening also featured Sembene’s adult son Adain, who broke down crying while remembering his late father. These kinds of emotional moments are what make Sundance screenings so special…you truly don’t know what will happen during the first looks at these new independent films.

Directors Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo at the Q&A for SEMBENE!

Directors Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo at the Q&A for SEMBENE!

The big social event of the weekend for us doc filmmakers was the Saturday night IDA/ro*co party in the center of Park City, where nearly all the documentary crew members converge to trade ideas and enjoy a bit of sponsored libation. I probably talked to 40 filmmakers and artists during this event, and traded war stories with lots of personal heroes. This is the Sundance that really resonates for me…much more than a party, this was a meeting of the grand documentary “tribe”, a chance to come out of our various cave-like edit rooms and spend a few hours in the warm glow that Sundance brings us (and yes, the drinks are free!).

The title of this entry includes the “(plus one!)”, not due to a party RSVP, but because I found out literally with a day left at the festival that ANOTHER film I had edited last year, called BENDING THE LIGHT, was showing at the New Frontiers Microcinema on Main Street. I had worked on this project with legendary director Michael Apted, who has crafted everything from THE UP SERIES to a James Bond film and episodes of the series MASTERS OF SEX. The film tells the parallel stories of five master photographers and the craftsmen who make Canon optical lenses for still photography and cinematic use. I was pretty blown away to stumble into the finished film at Sundance (I hadn’t seen the final color corrected version) and we had a full house for the screening and Q&A. Here’s the trailer:

Everyone getting virtual with Google Cardboard at the New Frontiers exhibits

Everyone getting virtual with Google Cardboard at the New Frontiers exhibits

Finishing that event, I literally had long enough to run over to the USC Alumni and Filmmaker event on Main Street, say hello to some SCA folks, and get in the van for the airport! A great finish to a whirlwind Sundance, but I could have used another week to see the ridiculously great slate of films packed into Park City. Next time…

Preparing to take the fast ride home to LA, courtesy of BEING EVEL

Preparing to take the fast ride home to LA, courtesy of BEING EVEL

Sundance Recap: SCA has Banner Year in Utah

Careers are made at the Sundance Film Festival. Across generations, filmmakers from Bryan Singer to Ryan Coogler have started their storied careers at the Park City Festival. This year, 33 films with Trojans in key positions were shown at Sundance/Slamdance and 5 films were sold including Diary of a Teenage Girl, Results, Dope, Cop Car, and Finders Keepers. In addition, Red Om Films, a production company founded by actress Julia Roberts, Lisa Gillan, and Marisa Yeres Gill, will be producing a narrative version of the documentary, Batkid Begins.

A still from Dope

A still from Dope, which sold at Sundance 2015

Several SCA alums also received honors at the festivals. At Sundance, Dope was awarded the U.S. Excellence in Editing Award in the dramatic feature category. In the Slamdance Festival, Hench-DADA alum Einar Baldvin’s MFA thesis project, The Pride of Strathmoor, won Jury Award for Animation Short, and 20 Years of Madness received a Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature.

“It is inspiring to see Park City audiences discover the many unique voices among our alumni and student filmmakers” said Director of Alumni Relations Justin Wilson. “I look forward to seeing as many of these films as possible on campus as part of our screening series.”

USC was “live” from the Park City with coverage on the Sundance Blog. Bloggers included Doug Blush, Ross Putman, Tchavdar Georgiev, and Natalie Qasabian. You can read their entries here:

The following films were also part of the festival:

Foley Edited by Kimberly Patrick ‘12

Written & Directed by Rick Famuyiwa ‘96
Produced by Forest Whitaker
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi
Production Sound Mixed by Mary Jo Devenney

Directed by Adam Salky

Executive Produced by Sev Ohanian ‘12

Produced by Forest Whitaker
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi

Produced by Joni Sighvatsson ‘85

Produced by Andrew Kortschak ‘13

Written & Produced by Felipe Marino ‘04
Produced by Joe Neurauter ‘04

Produced by Ross Dinerstein ‘05
Cinematography by Bridger Nielson ‘04

Produced by Shannon Blake Gans

Directed by Nonny de La Peña ‘09
Art Direction by Michael Murdock ‘14

Directed by Ken Kwapis
Cinematography by John Bailey

Directed & Produced by Bryan Carberry ‘09
Produced by Adam Gibbs ‘08
Co-produced by Greg Lanesey ‘95
Co-produced by Matt Radecki ‘94
Edited by Tchavdar Georgiev ’01

Edited & Associate Produced by Doug Blush ‘88
Edited by Derek Boonstra ‘07
Cinematography by Ayana Baraka
Production Coordinated by Chao Thao ‘14

Assistant Edited by Barb Steele

Executive Produced by Brian Grazer ‘74

Edited by Jason Zeldes ‘09

Directed by Ashley York ‘06

Consulting Editing by Doug Blush ‘88

Edited by Brian Scofield ‘11

Assistant Edited by Jeffrey Glaser

Directed by Steven Cantor ‘95

Produced by Paul Kewley ‘97

Written & Directed by Ryan Gillis ‘14

Written by Marc Smerling

Written & Produced by Paloma Martinez ‘13
Edited by Monica Salazar ‘13

Directed, Produced, Edited & Cinematography by Jeremy Royce ‘13
Produced by Jerry White Jr. ‘13
Produced by Kaveh Taherian ‘12
Cinematography by Will Jobe ‘13
Production Sound & Supervising Sound Edited by Kimberly Patrick ‘12
Post-production Sound & Supervising Sound Edited by Qianbaihui Yang ‘12
Line Produced by Michael Newman ‘12
Associate Produced by Lindsay Villarreal ‘13
FX Edited by Marcello Dubaz ‘12
Composed by Alexis Marsh ‘11
Composed by Samuel Jones ‘11

Written, Edited, & Sound Designed by Kurt Kuenne ‘95

Written & Produced by Bubba Fish ‘13
Sound Design by Ankur Agrawal ‘14

Written & Directed by Miguel Jiron ‘13

Written & Directed by Einar Baldvin ‘14

Written & Directed by David Greenspan ‘01

Produced by Clara Aranovich ’10
Produced by Nicolaas Bertelsen ’11
Produced by Sev Ohanian ’12


A Sundance Education: 5 Lessons Learned

Natalie Qasabian here, SCA alum class of 2014 and newcomer to the Sundance Film Festival.

This year, I was lucky enough to make my way to Sundance with Electric City Entertainment, the production company behind Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, and most recently Mississippi Grind, which premiered Saturday January 24th at Eccles Theater. I’ve been production coordinating for the company on their documentaries since July and was ecstatic when asked to ride along during Sundance.

Since I’ve been lucky enough to come to the festival in conjunction with a film and with some amazing producers and executives who are all Park City veterans, I was able to avoid a huge number of amateur mistakes during my festival experience. Inevitably, I still had a couple of “oops” moments. So whether you’re a newbie or a veteran coming to Sundance, hopefully there’s a lesson or two in here that you’ll find helpful (or, at the very least, entertaining).

LESSON #1: You Never Know Who is Behind You
After any screening, and especially on the opening night of a film where executives, buyers, and the filmmakers themselves are present, if someone asks you, “So what did you think?” near the theater, answer very, very quietly.

After The Bronze premiered Thursday night at Eccles, an agent friend of my boss asked me the expected, “What did you think?” I responded animatedly, but was quick to remark what I didn’t love about the film – apparently way too loudly. I was immediately shushed by my boss who was quick to point out one of the producers standing right behind me. Lucky for me he didn’t hear (or at least acted like he didn’t), but anyways, critique with caution!

HOW I LEARNED: The Easy way
RSVP for every party you can get a link or an invite to. If you know anyone in the industry and can get your hands on to the coveted party / event grid, I have three words for you: RSVP, RSVP, RSVP. As much as you plan at Sundance, things will shift and change when you get here. Get on all the lists, regardless of it clashing with other plans or parties. You never know where you’ll end up, so play it safe and RSVP for everything.

I thought I’d be working all night on Saturday (the premiere day for Mississippi Grind) only to find myself relieved of Electric City obligations around 10:30pm. My first thought was,
“good thing the Trojan family takes care of their own.” Sev Ohanian (Producer of Results, which was in Competition this year at Sundance) offered me some Sundance event wisdom and helped me get on some exciting lists this year; one of which was James Franco’s Saturday night party hosted by The Art of Elysium and Black Label Media in Deer Valley.

Sev Ohanian @SevOhanian · 6h6 hours ago
Props to @TheArtofElysium and @BlackLabelMedia for hosting the coolest party at #Sundance last night. The smores were off the hook.

LESSON #3: Falling
You will fall. Accept it. If it happens at the start, hey, at least you get it over with. If you should fall particularly hard, there is a clinic on 1665 Bonanza Dr. Park City, Utah 84068.

Unluckily for me, I learned this one the hard way on day 1 of my festival experience. At around 6pm I took a nasty fall on some undetectable black ice leaving my right wrist sprained. The positive in this, and my lesson learned was that a sprained wrist clad with a black splint makes a good icebreaker during interactions with new people.


LESSON #4 – Network / Mingle First, Movies Later
HOW I LEARNED: The easy way
The first weekend of Sundance is when the important events and parties happen. Plan on attending as many as possible during those first couple days. Don’t be heartbroken about not getting into premieres the first weekend. By week B, or the halfway mark of Sundance, tickets to films become way easier to score. Maximize your time by networking and attending the important parties first, catching films second.

If you’re at the festival with credentials or know someone with them, get your tickets at Festival Headquarters. Festival HQ opens at 8am (line up at 7:45am to get a better spot) and you can score tickets for the same day or the next day. Planning ahead and buying for the next day is the best way to ensure you’ll get to see what you want.

I learned this one the easy way courtesy of my bosses and Trojan friends who were quick to share this advice. Standing at line at HQ is also a great place to meet people and network!

LESSON #5 – Getting Around
HOW I LEARNED: The hard way
Avoid Main Street with a car especially after the sun goes down. Main Street is less than a mile long, but it can take you 20 minutes to drive through during certain hours, especially during week 1. If you have a car, buy a parking spot in advance and navigate the back roads to get there. Park it and walk – it’s the best way to get somewhere.

I learned this one the hard way one day 1 when I was supposed to pick up someone on Main Street. I quickly learned that “pick me up on main” is code for find a back road that leads close by.

If you don’t have a car, Sundance has a great free shuttle system that will get you to all the theaters and to Main Street. Just make sure to plan ahead and budget enough time to get to screenings. You want to be between 15 to 45 minutes early too to ensure a seat.