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"House of Docs" Rocks

By Betsy McLane

The Sundance Film Festival produced another hit this year with the inauguration of "House of Docs." For years, festival organizers have attempted to put the documentary competition on an equal footing with fiction features. For the cognoscenti, it has become a cliché, albeit a true one, that the docs are the films to see in Park City. But trying to get to conflicting, far-flung screenings and connect with other documentary enthusiasts was sometimes difficult. The much-discussed Hollywoodization and overcrowding of the festival also tended to marginalize documentarians. "House Of Docs" has changed that.

Organized by Nicole Guillemet and funded for one year by the Soros Documentary Fund, "House of Docs 2000" became the hip meeting place, coffee bar, information center and site of much spirited doc talk. The space itself and the staff who populated itwere terrific. Even the "House" furnishings, mission-style and straight out of the Sundance merchandise catalogue, made people feel like hanging out and talking. ln fact, the biggest participant complaints were that the "House" was open only for five days and only from 10 AM to 4 PM.

The presentation/discussions, roundtable discussions, and one-on one meetings at "House of Docs" were also mostly successful. The roundtables included "Funding—PBS" and "Funding—Foundations," "Distribution—Broadcast" and "Distribution—Theatrical," as well as "Filmmaker to Filmmaker—the Creative Process." The presentation/discussions included "A Meeting of the Markets—Broadcast and Theatrical" and "The Perception of Documentaries: Europe vs. United States." This last was an ambitious topic that went beyond the nuts and bolts of most festival panels. Moderator B. Buby Rich insisted on keep ing the discussion centered on perceptions, so theoretical thinking emerged.

Many extraordinary documentary professionals were on hand. During the five days, participants included Ally Derks of IDFFA, Vikram Jayanti, Alan Hayling from Channel 4, Alex Cooke of the Sheffield Festival, Pat Mitchell—then representing CNN—FAFs Gail Sllva, Udy Epstein of 7tn Arts, Steve Rothenberg from Artisan, Liz Manne of Sundance Channel, Ellen Schneider from POV Nancy Abrahams from HB0/Cinemax, Lauren Lazin of MTV, Suzanne Fedak from Winstar, Rachel Horovitz from Fine Line, Jane Balfour and others. Foundation representatives included Diane Weyerman of Soros, Alyce Myatt of MacArthur, Cleo Wilson from Playboy, and Michael Shirley from NEH.

PBS graciously hosted a lunch for the whole documentary contlngent. Their representatives included Alon Orstein, Lois Vossen and Scott Chaffin. Even Robert Redford came to "House of Docs" to bless the opening party and to renew Sundance's commitment to the documentary"

There are plans to introduce a documentary lab that will correspond to the successful producers and screenwriters labs at the lnstitute. There are those Sundance theater screens and cable hours to fill with documentaries, and hopefully, there will be a "House of Docs 2001." The Soros Documentary Fund and everyone involved with "House of Docs" is to be congratulated for creating such a warm and positive place for documentaries and documentarians at Sundance.