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AWASH IN ’SUNSHINE’

BAM-Sundance partnership kicks off with a laff riot, party

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Ever since Glenn Close put a bug in GO Girl’s ear about an upcoming collaboration between the Sundance Institute and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, she has been positively mixing martinis in anticipation. The organizations’ joint press conference earlier this year, which confirmed the impending birth of this indie love child, further ratcheted up the excitement with its vague overview delivered by no less than Institute President Robert Redford himself.

At the mere mention of Sundance, GO Girl’s head usually fills with lavish photo spreads of indie film stars wearing Ugg boots and fur-trimmed hats through the snowy streets of Park City, Utah. But the filmmakers and other industry folk were able to leave their woolens at home on May 11 - the opening night of the "Sundance Institute at BAM" series - when Bob returned to lend the warmth of his shining star to our very own Fort Greene.

"Most of the filmmakers who come through [the Sundance Institute Filmmakers] lab are from here," said Redford, celebrating the already-existing bond between Park City and Brooklyn.

In true rebel style, the "Sundance Institute at BAM" organizers kicked off their series of movies, panel discussions and concerts with a film from the 2006 fest that was not universally loved by the critics: "Little Miss Sunshine." [GO Girl nearly dropped her sushi when she read the following from Dennis Lim in The Village Voice: "The series opens with its most obvious display of clout: ’Little Miss Sunshine,’ the biggest sale in Sundance history and a curdled apotheosis of the festival’s favorite genre, the dysfunctional-family road trip."]

Starting this new venture with a movie that appeared to rankle a few critics seemed a risky, radical move, but any pre-screening anxiety GO Girl may have had about suffering through "Little Miss Sunshine" was immediately smoothed away by the Grey Goose lemon drop martinis that were distributed to the guests as they entered the BAM Rose Cinemas.

Happily those sugar-rimmed ’tini glasses heralded a night of sweet surprises for GO Girl and the sprinkling of naysayers.

First of all, the film is hysterical.

Laughing until she cried at the antics of stars Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear and talented ’tween Abigail Breslin, GO Girl’s enthusiasm was only surpassed by her seat-neighbor Danny Simmons, who confessed that he really needed these laughs.

"Sunshine" chronicles the story of a normal - er, dysfunctional - family, replete with a drug-addicted grandpa (Arkin) and suicidal uncle (Carell). The clan goes on a desperate road trip in a dilapidated Volkswagon bus in order to get their young daughter (Breslin) to a beauty pageant on time. (GO Girl wondered how screenwriter Michael Arndt got a hold of her childhood journals.)

Before and after the screening, Little Miss Breslin mixed and mingled with partygoers, including Patricia Clarkson.

The star of "Good Night and Good Luck" told GO Girl that she thought "Sunshine" was "fabulous, incredibly funny and poignant. It moved between the light and dark so effortlessly."

Clarkson said she turned out for the opening night to show her support for the Sundance Institute.

"I was named ’the Queen of Sundance,’ " said the flaxen-haired beauty, recalling that one year she had four films in the festival.

Screenwriter Arndt now lives in San Francisco, but told GO Girl that he’s hanging on to the East Williamsburg apartment where he wrote his black comedy.

Arndt said that he had written the film with the intention of directing it, too.
"It’s a lesson in the virtues of cowardice," he said, happy with the job that filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris did with his script. "They made it much better."

Faris, a resident of LA, told GO Girl that she was initially "scared and nervous about the New York crowd," but was happy to report she was gratified by the audience’s reaction to the film she and Dayton labored over for five years. (For those who weren’t invited to the screening, Faris said "Sunshine" will be released by Fox Searchlight on July 26.)

Although this is their first feature film, Dayton and Faris are not new to the field. They’ve been filming music videos and commercials for decades.

"We love working with eccentric artists," said Faris. "[The actors] were great to work with - very talented people." Now that their labor of love has a distributor, Faris and Dayton are concentrating on their next project: shooting the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music video for "Tell Me Baby," from the recently released double album, "Stadium Arcadium."

Also spotted networking their way through the soiree - which spanned two floors of BAM - were designer Kenneth Cole, writer-director Byron Hurt (whose "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture" screens at BAM on May 21 at 6:30 pm), actress Cara Seymour ("The Notorious Bettie Page," "American Psycho"), "The Forgiven" writer-director Paul Fitzgerald (whose flick screens May 20 at 6:30 pm) and home improvement guru Bob Vila (who served on the Sundance at BAM host committee).

The opening night eventually wound down, but the Sundance party is far from over. The series continues through Sunday, with a grand finale on May 21. GO Girl added a 9 pm screening of "Sherrybaby" - Brooklynite Laurie Collyer’s flick starring Maggie Gyllenhaal - to her PDA, along with a 2 pm panel discussion between directors Allison Anders ("Gas Food Lodging"), Hal Hartley ("The Unbelievable Truth"), David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees"), John Waters ("Hairspray"), and film critic Janet Maslin.

Still giggling over "Little Miss Sunshine," GO Girl and the other invitees happily scooped up their gift bags.

Although they didn’t contain glossies autographed by the "Way We Were" hunk, they did have vodka and Sundance Channel T-shirts that pleaded: "Change Your Coast."

But GO Girl likes her coast just fine: whether she’s enjoying "shots" on the beach in Coney Island or inside The River Cafe.

And that’s a wrap! Hiccup!

For a complete schedule of "Sundance Institute at BAM" events, click here.

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