Photo: Sundance Film Festival
Dozens of films are currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival in the hopes of scoring a distribution deal. But there's at least one film that might never see a movie theater (or a computer screen, or a smart phone) outside of Park City if one of the most powerful entertainment companies on the planet has anything to say about it.
That company is Disney, and the rogue film in question is "Escape From Tomorrow," a black and white fever dream about a middle-aged man who gets fired via a phone call while he's on vacation with his family and spirals into a hallucinatory fantasyscape of paranoia and anger as he faces his unfulfilled dreams and other, you know, Sundance-y kind of stuff (The Playlist describes our hero's journey as a "mind-melting vacation from hell").
Sounds like your typical Park City offering, no? Except "Escape From Tomorrow" has quite the gimmick going for it (and most definitely against it): it consists almost entirely of "stolen" shots while on location at Disney World. In other words, it's a feature film that enjoyed the impressive, one-of-a-kind production value that the attraction has to offer without any official permission from the park.
It's a run-and-gun DIY film that, according to at least one review, consists of one "How the hell did they pull that off?" set-up after another. It's not a bunch of cheap-looking shots that embrace the shaky-cam aesthetic we've all come to know and loathe, though -- quite the contrary, "Escape From Tomorrow" apparently looks terrific with its traditional coverage, master shots and even, you know, lighting.
So it's a well-done film, and good for director Randy Moore and his stealthy cast and crew for pulling off such a bold experiment (and getting it into Sundance). It's also something Disney probably wants to crush into oblivion (the issue of location permits and licensing aside, the film rather predictably doesn't paint the mega-conglomerate in the most positive light).
But will they be able to? Sure, "Escape From Tomorrow" might not ever see any kind of theatrical, direct-to-DVD or even digital release. But the film makes for a prime example of what can be accomplished with today's filmmaking technology, where giant 35mm camera have been replaced by what looks like a tourist's still camera; it might very well also show us just how easy it is to snag an audience (if not traditional "distribution") in the age of YouTube and other online venues.
After all, it's nowhere near as small a world as the Mouse House may think it is.
Whatever ends up being the fate of "Escape From Tomorrow," it's a very good sign that Sundance even accepted such a film. Sundance used to be all about showcasing groundbreaking, transgressive pieces of angry pop art before it got all what industry-types like to call "political" and Paris Hilton started showing up at the after parties. While Sundance will most definitely never again be the champion of indie film that it was back in the '90s, it could now be attempting to be as much a home for the no-budget rule-breakers as it is for the shiny star-studded packages tailor-made for quick acquisition deals.