Last month at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton saw the culmination of their five-year-labor of love when their inaugural feature, Little Miss Sunshine, played to a sold out crowd and raked in $10.5 million in worldwide distribution rights from Fox Searchlight-the highest ever paid for a film in the festival's history. "It was beyond our expectations and we were totally surprised by it," says Faris. The film, written by Michael Arndt, is set for wide release this summer and tells the quirky tale of a dysfunctional family's roadtrip from New Mexico to Southern California to bring their daughter to a beauty pageant. Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear star, along with a quite prominent broken down VW bus. Seems quite fishy considering the Bob Industries-repped team's long history of directing spots for VW-including the acclaimed "Milky Way" Cabriolet spot, but "it was totally coincidental," laughs Dayton. "We loved that fact, but it's not any form of product placement." Adds Faris, "It was in the script from the beginning, and it's part of what appealed to us. Both Jonathan and I at different times in our lives had VW vans, and similar things to what happens to the family had happened to us. The character of the van is pretty important and it really was the only one you could use."
Other industry appearances at Sundance included Partizan's Michel Gondry, who premiered his third film, The Science of Sleep, starring Gael Garcia Bernal; and Tate USA's Jason Reitman, whose feature debut, Thank You for Smoking, starring Katie Holmes, caused a bit of controversy when her much buzzed about nude footage failed to run during the screening, fueling rumors that it was swiped by gossip rags or Tom Cruise and his Scientology cronies. (Reportedly, Reitman said it was accidentally sliced from the festival's print during the reel's assembly.) On the shorts list were Bugcrush, directed by fashion photographer Carter Smith and edited by Consulate's Holle Singer, which took home the short film award; Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore's much-hyped directorial debut Dealbreaker, produced by Moxie Films and Glamour magazine, as well as Robin's Big Date, starring Sam Rockwell and directed by Mad River editor James Duffy. On the branded front, Nonfiction Spots' Robby Kenner directed a historical documentary, Origins, about Hewlett-Packard, which premiered at the H-P Entertainment Technology Summit at Sundance.