Doing the Sundance: Seattle filmmakers in whirl
Special to The Seattle Times
PARK CITY, Utah — Alexis Ferris and Jeffrey M. Brown are in a condo with as many as 13 people from their crew, trying to relax 18 hours before their film's big premiere at Sundance.
"I thought that when I got on the plane that the stress would end," says Brown, laughing. "It's crazier here than it is in Seattle — all the celebrities, all the interviewers, all the photo shoots. One minute you're relaxing, the next your publicist calls and says, 'I need you to be at an interview in 15 minutes.' The vibe is the same as being on [a film] set."
Ferris and Brown are the producers of "Police Beat," the eagerly anticipated Seattle-produced film based on writer Charles Mudede's police blotter column in "The Stranger."
"When we first got into the festival, I was really excited about it," says Ferris. "Then I thought: 'We have so much work to do.' Then we got here, and I heard some really wonderful things that people were saying about the film. Then I looked at the other films we're in competition with, and I thought 'This is too much!' It's always a high/low all the time."
There's a knock on the door — time to get moving. There's another party to hit.
Punched in the stomachCut to Sunday, day of the premiere screening. There are at least 15 people in attendance who worked on the film, and a large number of Seattle-area supporters are also in the audience, not to mention critics, distributors, dramatic competition jury members including critic B. Ruby Rich, producer Christine Vachon and actor John C. Reilly. The film unspools without a hitch, and the following Q&A period brings up comments that compare the film to Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and the style of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai.
Outside the 700-seat Racquet Club Theatre venue, festival director Geoffrey Gilmore describes the film quickly and succinctly. "I love this film," he says. "It's so distinctive and so unique. I have not heard this voice in a film before."
Indeed the word on the snowy Park City streets is that "Police Beat" is intriguing and original. Directed by Robinson Devor and shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sean Kirby, with a rich palette of greens and blues on a widescreen frame, "Police Beat" revolves around a Senegalese immigrant and Seattle bicycle cop named Z. He responds to some of Seattle's more bizarre criminal incidents (all taken from real Seattle police blotters) while his American girlfriend goes on a camping trip with another man. As his jealousy and the crimes spin off in various directions, Z tries to come to terms with the cultural clash between his outsider's West African perspective and his new country's dark insides. The character's voice-over also happens to be spoken in the African language of Wolof.
As the group exits the theater with the first screening under their belts, the adrenaline is still palpable. "It's like getting punched in the stomach," laughs costume designer Doris Black, "but in the very best way!"
Devor, Brown and Ferris gather around Steven Raphael, "Police Beat's" producer's rep, for a quick briefing about the days to come. They'll have to measure the buzz, get through four more screenings, and wait for press response to the film.
There's not much time to decompress, but now it's time to celebrate. The group makes their way up to the Seattle Party, hosted by the Washington State Film Office, the Mayor's Office of Film & Music and a number of local film vendors.
Honored Northwest films include the Vulcan Productions-produced "Hard Candy," Keith Bearden's excellent live action and animated short "The Raftman's Razor," and Corwin Fergus' "Oil and Water." The party is in full swing; familiar faces from the Seattle film community make the party a welcome oasis during the festival crush. Brown and Ferris can start to breathe a little easier, even though people are packed in as tight as sardines. No one wants to leave when the party is officially over.
Finding a placeFade up on Monday morning. Over a quiet breakfast, Ferris and Brown reflect about how far the film and they have come, from first-time feature producers to Sundance vets. They've worked on "Police Beat" for more than two years, and now they are poised to bring it to audiences, hopefully by securing a distribution deal after premiering at Sundance.
"Sales are very competitive this year," commented the film's publicist, Rebecca Fisher. "There are a lot of films for sale, and we're only through the first weekend. I've heard there are some buyers interested but they're waiting to see some reviews of the film."
"We don't have well-known actors, so the story and the beauty of the film is what's going to sell it," says Brown. "We know this is a wonderful film," adds Ferris. "I think we will find a place out there."
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company