Sundance Channels Festival Buzz

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The worlds of television and film have gotten awfully cozy with each other at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Park City, Utah’s annual cinema hotbed, where indie dreams come true and Oscar fortunes are made, hosted two well-received screenings of Sundance Channel properties, the upcoming miniseries Top of the Lake and series Rectify.

In a first for an American festival, Lake screened in its entirety (and will repeat the feat next month in Berlin). It will air March 18. Rectify, which follows on-air April 22, screened its first two episodes, as other series such as HBO’s Girls and AMC’s Breaking Bad have done in recent months.

The DNA of the two Sundance series helped propel the decision to premiere in a film environment — Lake was written and directed by Jane Campion, her first TV effort since the 1990 Australian series An Angel at My Table launched the Piano director’s international film career. Producer Emile Sherman also has film bona fides, having produced major titles such as The King’s Speech and Shame.

Similarly, the driving forces behind Rectify know the film world well. Executive producer Mark Johnson won an Oscar for Rain Man, though he also executive produces Breaking Bad. Creator Ray McKinnon, while known as an actor for FX’s Sons of Anarchy, among others, started out as a filmmaker.

More broadly, though, as market forces and technology have all but erased boundaries on the creative side, there was a sense on the ground in Utah that before long the festival circuit may be de rigueur for any series looking for cultural heat.

The trip to Sundance was McKinnon’s first since 2004 with his directorial effort Chrystal. At a panel Monday afternoon, he noted there are still a few differences that still exist between the TV and film industries.

“When you make an independent film, raising the money is so hard,” he said. “Then, if you’re lucky, Sundance takes you. Then, two years later, you’re handing out flyers for your movie at a biker convention in Fayetteville, Ark.”

Campion left the festival buoyed by the experience of watching audiences watch her series in full, binging as they do with VOD and digital but in a communal, theatrical setting. Lead Elisabeth Moss drew raves for her tough but vulnerable performance, a change of pace for viewers accustomed to seeing her as Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen.

“I really felt a sense of community in that room,” Campion said. “People came and everyone stayed for seven, hours including the Q&A. It was like one big sleep-over.”