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Sundance Film Festival starts today: Oklahoma movies "Rudderless" and "This May Be the Last Time" on lineup

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: January 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm •  Published: January 16, 2014
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Anton Yelchin, left, and Billy Crudup star in "Rudderless."
Anton Yelchin, left, and Billy Crudup star in "Rudderless."

The prestigious Sundance Film Festival begins its 2014 edition today in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.

And two highly anticipated Oklahoma films are on the lineup for the 30th annual festival, which continues through Jan. 26.

As previously reported, the Oklahoma-made feature “Rudderless,” the directorial debut for Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy, will not only be among the films premiering at the festival, but it also has been chosen for the event’s coveted closing-night slot. Edmond filmmakers Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison wrote the screenplay for the musical drama, which was filmed April 21-May 27 in Oklahoma City and Guthrie using the state’s 35 percent Film Enhancement Rebate.

“Rudderless” stars Billy Crudup (“Big Fish”) as a grieving father who discovers a box of his deceased son’s original music and forms a rock ‘n’ roll band hoping to find peace in the aftermath of tragedy. The cast also includes Macy’s Academy Award-nominated wife Felicity Huffman, Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne and up-and-comers Selena Gomez, Anton Yelchin and Jamie Chung.

According to the Sundance festival guide, “Rudderless” will screen Jan. 24, 25 and 26. In addition, Crudup, Yelchin and more cast members from the Oklahoma-produced film “Rudderless” will showcase their music talents in a special concert celebrating the film’s world premiere at the festival.

Also as previously reported, “This May Be the Last Time,” a documentary about American Indian music from Oklahoma-based filmmakers Sterlin Harjo and Matt Leach, will makes its world premiere at Sundance, too.

The doc explores the historic influence and importance of the ceremonial music of the Creek Nation, which is now in jeopardy and fighting to survive. In the film, historian Hugh Foley suggests that the Creek hymn may be the first true American music due to its multicultural composition dating back to the early 19th century.

“This May Be the Last Time”  is also the most personal film to date for director Harjo, whose past work includes “Barking Water” and “Four Sheets to the Wind,” both of which focus on themes of contemporary Native American culture. In “This May Be the Last Time,” Harjo explores the mystery of his grandfather’s death and the role Native song played in his family’s history of grief. The film follows a musical thread that dates back hundreds of years to the Trail of Tears, missionaries, and slave songs.

According to the festival guide, “This May Be the Last Time” screens Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Jan. 24 and Jan. 25.

The Oklahoma Film & Music Office has released a “Who’s Who” of Oklahomans with connections to this year’s festival:

Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison: Oklahoma City natives Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison wrote the original screenplay for the film, “Rudderless.” Their unique success story began in 2008 when the duo submitted their script to William H. Macy’s talent agent, who liked it and then forwarded the material to the renowned actor. Shortly thereafter, Twenter and Robison received feedback from Macy who expressed interest in developing their project. The group worked together over the next few years honing the script and securing financing for the film. Once the final script was in place, Macy signed on to make his directorial debut. Casting announcements were made in April 2013 and included the talents of Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, and Selena Gomez. After being qualified for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program, principal photography began in Oklahoma on April 21, 2013. On December 9, 2013, the Sundance Film Festival announced that Rudderless had been selected for the coveted slot of closing night for the festival.

Musicians of “Rudderless”: In addition to their renowned acting talents, Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, and more cast members from the Oklahoma-produced film “Rudderless” will showcase their music talents in a special concert celebrating the film’s world premiere at the festival. Additionally, festival audiences will get a taste of Oklahoma musicians Chelsey Cope, HonkyTonkStepChild, Travis Linville, Matthew Stratton, Tara Dillard and the Boulevard Brass Quintet whose music appears on-screen throughout the film.

Sterlin Harjo: No stranger to Sundance audiences, Tulsa resident and Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo has gained critical and audience acclaim with his films throughout the festival’s history. At age 23, Harjo was accepted into the Sundance Institute’s Filmmakers Lab where he spent a year developing his first feature-length film, “Four Sheets to the Wind,” which later premiered at the festival in 2007. Prior to this inclusion, his short film, “Goodnight Irene,” was an official 2005 Sundance shorts selection, and his second feature, “Barking Water,” premiered at Sundance in 2008. This year, Harjo returns to the festival as director of “This May Be the Last Time,” the the first feature-length documentary produced by Tulsa’s own This Land Films, a division of This Land Press. In the film, Harjo begins investigating his grandfather’s mysterious 1962 disappearance and ends up on a journey through history as documented in the songs that the Seminole people sang on the Trail of Tears and continue to sing to this day.

Matt Leach: Oklahoma native Matt Leach has directed and produced a number of award winning productions for film, television, and new media productions. His music video “The Gym is All She Has” for Man Branch was an official selection of the 2010 SXSW Film Festival; likewise, his direction of the Evangelicals “Midnight Vignette” was named one of the 25 Best Indie Music Videos of the Year in 2007 by MTV2. As the creator/director/producer of This Land TV, Leach continues to demonstrate his talents having produced the company’s first feature-length documentary film, “This May Be the Last Time,” premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

This Land Films, A Division of This Land Press: With headquarters in Tulsa, This Land Press is branded as Oklahoma’s first new media company. Staffed by a diverse group of talents, This Land Press is committed to telling the story of Oklahoma with the aim of broadening understanding of the state’s life and culture. The company launched its own television series in 2011 and has now produced its first feature-length documentary, “This May Be the Last Time.” The documentary is the first film production from This Land Films, a subsidiary of This Land Press. Under the direction of Oklahoma filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, “This May Be the Last Time” explores the historic influence and importance of the ceremonial music of the Creek Nation, which is now in jeopardy and fighting to survive.

Chad Burris: An Oklahoma native and member of The Chickasaw Nation, Chad Burris is a successful producer and founder of Indion Entertainment Group, which produces and finances film productions. Through his company, Burris has produced several successful independent films including Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me,” Sterlin Harjo’s “Barking Water,” and this year’s Sundance Selection, “Drunktown’s Finest.” Burris’ latest film is the coming-of-age story of three young Native Americans growing up on an Indian reservation.

N. Bird Runningwater: Born of the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache peoples, N. Bird Runningwater is a University of Oklahoma graduate who currently serves as Director of the Native American and Indigenous Program for the Sundance Institute. Runningwater has overseen the Native Lab of the Institute which has launched projects such as “Four Sheets to the Wind,” “Sikumi,” “Miss Navajo,” “Shímásání,” and “Drunktown’s Finest.” Runningwater has also established filmmaker Labs in New Zealand and Australia, which have spawned such projects as “The Strength Of Water” (New Zealand), “Samson And Delilah” (Australia), and “Bran Nue Dae” (Australia).

Bill Hader: Tulsa native reunites with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Kristin Wiig to play estranged siblings in “The Skeleton Twins,” the new drama from acclaimed writer/director Craig Johnson (“True Adolescents”).

Megan Mullally: The festival’s film awards will be announced Jan. 25 in Park City at a ceremony hosted by husband-and-wife duo Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally and livestreamed at www.sundance.org/live. Offerman headlines the film “Nick Offerman: American Ham” in the festival’s premieres section. Mullally, voices a character in the English-language version of the Oscar-nominated animated film “Ernest and Celestine,” which will have its world premiere in the festival’s new Sundance Kids section. Best known for her Emmy-winning role as Karen Walker on TV’s “Will & Grace,” Mullally grew up in Oklahoma City, graduated from Casady High School and danced with Oklahoma City Ballet. As previously reported, Mullally will return to Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s stage for the first time since 2004 in “Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt Are Nancy and Beth” on Feb. 20 at Lyric’s Plaza Theatre in OKC.

-BAM

by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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