Good Afternoon, Sundance: Lights, Crowds, Action

Buyers and riff raff are back, “Margin Call” causes a crush, and Robert Redford admits he's going to die one day

And they're off …

As the Sundance Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, fest founder Robert Redford gave his annual state-of-Sundance press conference – “and as usual,” says Gregory Ellwood, “it was a mostly dry affair.” Redford’s spiciest quote came in response to a question about whether he had plans to retire from the festival or the Sundance Institute: “No, I have not thought about retiring,” he said. “I am gonna die, but I haven’t thought about retiring.” Festival programming chief John Cooper, meanwhile, predicted a big, crowded festival, and a revival of what he calls the “riff raff” of celebrity gifting suites and nightclubs. (Hitfix)

Kevin SpaceyThe independent film market is reviving and buyers are more enthusiastic about this year’s Sundance, reports Brooks Barnes – who then cautions that we won’t be seeing anything like the glory days when “Little Miss Sunshine” sold for $10.5 million and the flop “Hamlet 2” for $10 million. “This essentially means that dals with get done but that prices will be confined to the mid-seven figures or less,” he says, with movies that once would have fetched “$1.5 million in minimum guarantees … now looking at about $250,000.” Among his list of likely deals in the making: “My Idiot Brother” with Paul Rudd, “The Details” with Tobey Maguire, Laura Linney and Ray Liotta and “Margin Call” with Kevin Spacey (above) and Demi Moore. In other words: this may be the indie showcase, but buyers still want movie stars. (The New York Times)

Breaking: So far, the fest’s hot ticket has been to the press & industry screening of “Margin Call,” which took place on Friday morning. Even before the screening was supposed to start, Twitter was deluged with notes that the line was enormous and the screening “hijacked by buyers, publicists and sales agents,” with more than 150 turned away. But hey, Harvey Weinstein got that last seat. (Twitter)

Want to change your image? Sundance can help. That’s what John Horn and Chris Lee say as they follow the cases of actors Patrick Dempsey and Pierce Brosnan, director Lee Tamahori and actors-turned-directors Vera Farmiga and Michael Rapaport, all of whom are using this year’s festival to showcase different sides of themselves. “I knew I couldn’t play the romantic comedy card again,” says McDreamy.  (The Envelope)

John Horn also says that the fest kicked off in a fitting manner on Thursday night with “The Guard,” a black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson as a crooked Irish cop and Don Cheadle as an FBI agent who comes to Gleeson’s town in search of drug traffickers. After a screening that attracted “representatives of every distributor of specialized film,” plus Disney chief Rich Ross, Horn predicts a sale shortly. (Awards Tracker)

Kim Voynar’s Sundance preview lists nine movies she really wants to see, including the global YouTube compilation “Life in a Day,” the Liberian-set documentary “The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Kevin Smith’s “Red State” and “Man on Wire” director James Marsh’s “Project Nim,” a documentary about a chimpanzee who was taught sign language. But she also says that for some, the films may be less important than the fact that a well-known rapper is reputed to be performing during the festival: “if history is an indicator, this means that folks attending the fest can expect to be repeatedly accosted by total strangers on shuttles and Main Street asking if they’ve seen Snoop Dogg, talked to Snoop Dogg, or can gain them access to the Snoop Dogg performance or the private Snoop Dogg after party.” (Movie City News)

Director David Lowery has a short film, “Pioneer,” playing at Sundance. He hopes to see it, but he’s not quite sure that he can, because it turns out that short filmmakers get only two tickets to see their films at the festival, and are then allowed to buy up to 10 more. He didn’t do that (“bank accounts being bank accounts”), and he’s given his two tickets to his producers. So he says, “I’ll be waitlisting it” for his own movie. And he promises to blog about it as he sets his sights on that “most meager of goals, but one I feel mostly comfortable surmounting.” (Rooftop Films)

Erik Davis spent his time with Sundance’s short films on Thursday night, because that way he got to catch the film with the biggest stars-per-minute ratio: “’Fight For Your Right’ Revisited,” Beastie Boy (and Oscilloscope co-founder) Adam Yauch’s sequel to his band’s iconic 1980s music video. It features Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and Danny McBride as the Beasties, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci as landlords, and a supporting cast that includes Will Ferrell, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Orlando Bloom, Chloe Sevigny and Maya Rudolph. The verdict: “equal parts hilarious, offensive and really great to listen to.” But Davis preferred “Worst Enemy,” a short about a neurotic young woman (Michaela Watkins) directed by actress/director Lake Bell. (Moviefone)

One of the oddest of this year’s Sundance films might well be John Akomfrah’s “The Nine Muses,” which Anne Thompson calls a “documentary essay” that “uses Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ … as an allegorical sci-fi fable about the history of mass migration to postwar Britain.” And since that doesn’t exactly clear things up, she’s also got a poster and trailer to muddy the waters even further. It looks fascinating, and baffling. (Thompson on Hollywood)

Of course it wouldn’t be a film festival without Jeff Wells complaining about accommodations, surroundings or wi-fi – and the bar is raised particularly high for Wells at Sundance, where his misadventures leaving a cowboy hat in lieu of a deposit are the stuff of legend. So now he’s back in Park City, and today’s problem is the snooty attitude at a restaurant where he wanted to hang out at the bar without a reservation. It’s fairly low-key, as Wells’ complaints go. (Hollywood Elsewhere)