A few films with Washington connections are headed to Sundance, including “Captain Fantastic” starring Viggo Mortensen and a short by filmmaker Drew Christie. But some local directors — Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths — are sitting out this year.
The Seattle area is sending new faces to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, while some veterans are sitting this one out.
The most high-profile movie with local ties at the festival, which runs Jan. 21-31 in Park City, Utah, is “Captain Fantastic,” a feature shot largely along the Washington coast. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as a father who, after raising his six children off the grid for years, is forced to face the outside world. While the director, Matt Ross, doesn’t live here, much of the crew was local.
“The Fundamentals of Caring,” a feature based on Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison’s “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” was selected as the closing-weekend premiere at the festival, known as one of the nation’s top independent film showcases.
In the movie, Paul Rudd stars as the hapless Ben, who becomes a caregiver to a strong-willed teen with muscular dystrophy. The story is loosely based on Evison’s experiences caring for a young man, Case Levenson, during a difficult time in the author’s own life.
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Evison will be at the premiere on Jan. 29; Levenson will be there, too. “There wouldn’t be a book or a film without him,” Evison said.
Although he sees the film as an entirely different entity from his novel, Evison was pleased with director Rob Burnett, a veteran TV comedy writer. And who could complain about being played by Paul Rudd?
Except for a few days on the set during filming, Evison has strenuously avoided seeing even snippets of the film. But he’s hoping for the best: “You figure they’re not going to choose a stinker to close Sundance.”
Animator and illustrator Drew Christie is bringing another short film to his third Sundance — but, unlike his previous creations, “The Emperor of Time” is live-action.
The Whidbey Island filmmaker’s “Song of the Spindle” and “Allergy to Originality,” which screened in 2012 and 2014, were animated miniature fables. But “I like to tell a story in the way that works best for that story,” he said, and animation didn’t feel appropriate for a tale about 19th-century photographer and filmmaking pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, whose series of running-horse photographs seem to move when shown quickly in sequence.
The film also touches on the troubled genius’ personal life: Muybridge shot and killed his wife’s lover (a jury deemed it justifiable homicide) and largely ignored his only son.
Muybridge’s images always fascinated Christie but, he said, “I became more intrigued when I found out he was an acquitted murderer and a very eccentric guy.”
Christie also helped animate a full-length documentary called “Nuts!” directed by Penny Lane. Its subject’s eccentricities might surpass Muybridge’s. The Sundance catalog describes the film as “the mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station.”
No Seattle-based director has a full-length feature at this year’s festival. One reason: Local directors are busy with other projects. Lynn Shelton (“Laggies”) has been directing episodes of various TV series, and Megan Griffiths (“Lucky Them”) has been in Los Angeles directing a film about the “Night Stalker” serial killer.
But industry insiders say there’s another reason: The cap on the state’s film incentive, which gives financial assistance — through tax credits — to projects shooting in Washington using local crews.
“There are tons of Washington workers working on amazing films, but they’re working out of state because other states have better film incentives,” said Amy Lillard, director of Washington Filmworks, a nonprofit that manages the state film office.
The state’s film-incentive program is capped at $3.5 million annually, an amount lower than in some other states, including Oregon ($10 million).
Lillard notes that “Captain Fantastic” took advantage of the Washington incentive to film here in 2014. The state, she says, brings in an average of $3.75 for every $1 it offers in rebates, but raising the cap is a tough sell for legislators.
“Fundamentals of Caring” is one of four 2016 Sundance features filmed in Georgia, which has no cap on its incentive program.
Shelton and Griffiths are working together on a pilot for an HBO series. “They really want to film it here if it gets greenlighted, but the question is, do we have the financial infrastructure to support it?” said Lillard, who estimates that Washington lost $65 million in film projects last year after hitting the incentive cap in March. “If the incentive were bigger, the projects would come.”