Sundance Film Festival | Al and Tipper Gore | The Business of Sundance | Fast Food Under Attack | In Memoriam

A-List Divas Descend on Sundance

Millions upon millions of dollars have started changing hands here at the Sundance Film Festival while distributors have ponied up for new products and A-list stars roamed the parties and screenings.

Big screen divas Faye Dunaway and Sharon Stone each turned up for the screening of Sundance founder Robert Redford’s star turn in “The Clearing,” a work in progress that either needs more work or more progress. Dunaway, wearing bright yellow, gave the balcony audience at the Eccles Theatre a thrill when she suddenly started going up and down the aisles looking for some lost friends who belonged with her in the VIP seating downstairs. The commotion made it hard to hear first-time director, producer Pieter Jan Brugge, explain in sonorous tones how he came to make his film.

Stone, traveling with her sister and two unidentified men, sported a short-short blond haircut and her usual movie star attitude. It wasn’t clear what she’s doing here, but Sundance is as good a place as any to find work even if you’re a self-styled superstar.

Meanwhile, the talk around town was of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton. The latter, apparently not satisfied to limit her movie career to homemade Internet sex videos, could also be looking for work. She may be confusing “films for adults” with “adult films.” Hilton reportedly danced on tabletops at one nightclub over the weekend, in a spontaneous burst of planned exhibitionism. All three were in attendance at the premiere of Kutcher’s new film, “The Butterfly Effect,” which was a little out of place here but didn’t have a negative impact on the seriousness of the festival.

Also spotted on Sunday were actress Elizabeth Perkins at Showtime’s terrific buffet dinner, Forest Whitaker taking in the PBS documentary about Martha’s Vineyard, and Courteney Cox and David Arquette chatting over the din of loud music with their entourage at a strange party thrown by a law firm that specializes in indie films. The latter event was marred by nasty publicists, including particularly stupid one named Henry who — while flicking cigarette ash with one hand — offended several waiting guests by pushing them and screaming at them. This included members of the media, the head of an influential foundation, and two staffers from the Creative Coalition. He was eventually removed.

Al and Tipper: Oh, Calcutta!

I told you Al and Tipper Gore are here with members of their family. My sources tell me that the once upon a time Second Family has fallen in love with an HBO documentary about prostitutes from Calcutta called “Born Into Brothels.”

The serious and much admired film concerns the children of these women to whom the filmmakers gave cameras. The result is a series of photographs that show their living conditions.

According to my source, the Gores went to the doc’s premiere, to the after party, have had talks with filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, and are even offering to get involved with the foundation set up to help the children. I’ve no doubt that Tipper will make sure the kids are prevented from hearing any infelicitous pop lyrics, too!

Money Changes Everything

And even while the parties continued, the main business of Sundance continued. Walter Salles’s excellent film, “The Motorcycle Diaries,” sold to Focus Features, as I predicted yesterday, for $4 million. And that’s just for North American rights since the rest of the world has already been sold on this surefire Oscar film. It will be released around Thanksgiving this year.

Of course, the problem with Sundance is that distributors often over-pay for films and later come to regret it. This happens over and over again, with the acquisitions people exhibiting the same symptoms Guy Pearce had in “Memento” — the inability to form memories.

Hopefully this won’t happen to Fox Searchlight, which was on a roll in 2003 but may have a harder time this year. They paid roughly $3 million for “Napoleon Dynamite,” a painful comedy about a bunch of nerdy high school kids in Idaho by a first-time director. The indie arm of 20th Century Fox also partnered with Miramax on a $4.4 million purchase of “Garden State,” the comedy-drama made by "Scrubs" star Zach Braff that stars him and Natalie Portman. Fox Searchlight, I’m told, will handle the U.S. side of things, with Miramax handling foreign distribution.

Also tricky, but maybe with more potential to pay off, Sony Pictures Classics is said to have forked over five million big kahunas for the surfing documentary “Riding Giants.” Cowabunga, dude! Lions Gate picked up “Open Water,” a real life story of a scuba trip gone bad.

But there are plenty of pictures left for sale here, including the Courteney Cox film “November,” the producers of which may have overplayed their hand in juggling offers. And several films — including “The Woodsman” with Kevin Bacon, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” with an all-star cast, “Speak” with Elizabeth Perkins, and “Maria Full of Grace” — are just having their screening debuts.

Sundance Takes a Bite Out of McDonald’s

It may turn out to be the “Bowling for Columbine” of fast food. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” — which shreds McDonalds in particular and all fast-food franchises in general for poor nutrition and many other evils — is packing fans into its screening room at the Sundance Film Festival faster than you can say “You deserve a break today.”

In fact, the big question is whether the golden arches will find this tongue-in-cheek, fact-based documentary arch at all, or serious enough to call in the lawyers. So far Spurlock, a West Virginia native who has a commercial production company in New York, says he hasn’t heard from the home of the Happy Meal, but hey — we’ve only just cleared the weekend.

On screen, Spurlock — using Michael Moore-like techniques and excellent animation — decides to go on a month-long McDonald’s binge to see what effect it will have on his health. Along the way he explores how fast food is marketed, especially to children and in schools. At first we’re treated to meetings with all of his doctors (a little too much info here) who conclude that he’s in excellent health. They also warn him of the consequences of turning to a three meal a day McDiet. But Spurlock is determined to go through with his plan. As you can imagine, it’s not a good idea.

Over the course of 30 days of eating just from the McDonald’s menu, the tall, in-shape filmmaker gains 25 pounds. Not only do his basic blood test numbers go completely out of whack, he also endangers his liver with early indications of cirrhosis. 

“My doctor said he’d never seen anything like it,” Spurlock told me later. (He’s now lost almost all of the weight he gained.) “But the sugar, salt and fat in the food could have killed me. He said my liver had the look of an alcoholic.”

“Super Size Me” is already attracting lots of attention from distributors, some of whom may be skittish about taking on McDonald’s, a company that controls billions in advertising dollars. Certainly the company will not be pleased when they see the filmmaker vomit out his car window while trying to devour a super-sized Happy Meal. But Spurlock’s $200,000 film should catch on as a cult classic, deservedly so, just like “Columbine.”

Passing Thoughts

We’ve lost a couple of people in the last few days who shouldn’t go without mention. Olivia Goldsmith, who wrote “The First Wives Club,” was a lot of fun with a sparkling smile and a great spirit. Apparently she died of a heart attack while receiving anesthesia for a face-lift. One of those syndicated shows is promising to invade her privacy tonight and get some ratings off of her. Yuck. This story is tragic, just a great shame … John Guerin, the drummer who made a lot of Joni Mitchell’s best work shine, also died over the weekend. You can hear him on her two best albums, "Court and Spark," and "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" … Ray Stark, who was 88 and the producer of many Hollywood hits, is gone. Stark spent most of his career at Columbia Pictures where he was a force to be reckoned with. His titles included “Funny Girl,” “The Electric Horseman,” “The Way We Were” and countless others. You can read some amusing stuff about him in Julia Phillips’s memoir, “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again.”

And finally: no Jacko today. Play classical music, read a literary novel, take some vitamins. It all starts again tomorrow, I’m sure! But in case you missed it, click here for the latest 411 on the Jackson case.