After garnering the biggest buy in festival history, Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow led all the stories coming out of Park City, Utah, for most of the Sundance Film Festival. But a funny thing happened on the way to Brewer's film-fest coronation: Though Brewer's crunked-out allegory took home the festival's Audience Award for best feature, it was beaten out for the big prize, the grand jury selection for best feature, by the other Memphis movie at Sundance this year: Ira Sachs' Forty Shades of Blue.
Speaking by phone from his office in Manhattan's Little Italy as he worked on finalizing a distribution deal for his film and prepared for its European premiere this week at the Berlin Film Festival, the Memphis-bred, New York-based Sachs looked back at a whirlwind week.
"It was an amazing night," Sachs says. "It was a film I've been working on for seven years, and to arrive at a moment at which it had this very strong and very passionate affirmation was truly sweet."
Sachs, whose previous feature, the made-in-Memphis The Delta, screened in competition at Sundance in 1997, knew through anecdotal evidence that his film -- a love triangle of sorts between a father, a son, and the father's younger wife -- was having an impact.
"I had been in Park City for eight or nine days and had had a number of people speak to me very personally about the film and the emotions it left them with," Sachs says. "So I had a sense that the film was leaving a mark on part of the audience. But winning was another thing. I was just really glad the jury responded to what I was trying to do."
The film, which stars Rip Torn as a celebrated music producer married to a young Russian woman (Dina Korzun), may not be typical for a festival that Sachs has said has gotten more chaotic and commerce-centered.
"It's a quiet film for Sundance. It's a film about the details of emotions and passion and love and disappointment, which are things that people don't tend to go to the cinema for today," says Sachs, who cites the European art cinema of directors such as Federico Fellini and Francois Truffaut and American indie pioneer John Cassavetes as prime influences.
As one of only 16 films to screen in competition at Sundance, Forty Shades of Blue was sure to garner some interest regardless of its reception. But by winning the big prize, Sachs could be looking at a much larger audience for his film.
Sachs describes current negotiations to distribute the film as "full-on" and expects that a deal could be finalized by the time this article is published. But Memphis audiences shouldn't have to wait until Forty Shades of Blue's theatrical release to see the big winner made in their own backyard. Sachs and local producer Adam Hohenberg both suggest that a local premiere is in the works, though the date and venue are yet to be determined. Sachs says he hopes to have something set up by spring.
"So many people and so many organizations have been supportive of the film, so we're trying to figure out the best way to launch the film in Memphis and to also have a screening where the people who were a part of the film can see it and enjoy it," Sachs says. "But we definitely want to have a premiere in Memphis that highlights our relationship to the city."
If Forty Shades of Blue doesn't exactly seem to have the box-office potential of its local companion piece, Sachs still expects it will find its audience.
"I was trying to tell a very particular kind of story, and if you tell it well, people will be there to see it," Sachs says. "The film is full of music and it's full of life and it's full of a certain kind of emotion that I think makes it accessible for an audience. My expectations are actually being realized. You make a film and you do the best you can and you hope everything else follows." n