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Sundance closing film 'Rudderless' explores grief through music

People gather on Main Street to watch for celebrities at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquha
People gather on Main Street to watch for celebrities at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquha

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While promoting his directorial debut "Rudderless" at the Sundance Film Festival this week, actor William H. Macy stumbled across a major problem - how to avoid divulging the film's big surprise.

"It's been difficult to do the publicity this week because we've all been trying to protect that big reveal. It leaves you with nothing but to be charming," Macy told Reuters.

"Rudderless," which premiered at Sundance on Friday, is a story of a father coming to terms with his son's untimely death in a school campus shooting. With the "Fargo" star behind the camera except for a minor role, the film stars Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin and Selena Gomez.

Music plays a key part in the story, becoming the voice of the son, Josh, as his father, Sam, discovers songs written by him before his death. When Sam (played by Crudup) starts to bring the songs to life with the help of a band, his son's music takes on its own personality.

The film's "big reveal" is a crucial plot twist involving how personal music is to people and how the meaning of songs can change as new information comes to light.

Made for under $2 million in Oklahoma over 25 days, Macy said his biggest challenge "as a naive first-time director" was keeping within the tight budget, and finding a way to visualize the music cinematically.

"All that remains of Josh is his music and his lyrics. He's a character, and the only way he can speak is through his music," Macy said. "Music is revealing of the person who writes the song and it's revealing of the person who sings the song."

STUDIOS SNAP UP FESTIVAL FAVORITES

"Rudderless" bookends the film premieres at Sundance, after a week of 119 feature films shown at different theaters across Park City. Thirty-four films will compete in the four competition categories - U.S. drama, U.S. documentary, world drama and world documentary - and the winners will be announced at Saturday's Sundance Film Festival awards.

Previous winners of the Sundance awards have gone on to win Oscars, including 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," 2009's "Precious," and 2012's "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Sundance also operates as a key market for studios to pick up independent films at the beginning of the year, although the pace of acquisitions and the prices paid have lagged the deals struck in last year's edition.

Key acquisitions this year include opening night film "Whiplash," which was picked up by Sony Corp's Sony Pictures Classics for $3 million.

Focus Features, a subsidiary of Comcast Corp's Universal Pictures, snapped up Zach Braff's Kickstarter-funded film "Wish I Was Here" for a reported $2.7 million, and the Keira Knightley film "Laggies" was bought by A24 for $2 million.

RADiUS-TWC, the multi-platform boutique label of The Weinstein Co, which made five acquisitions last year including two of this year's Oscar-nominated documentaries, so far has only picked up one Sundance film, "The One I Love." The deal was made for $2 million, according to Variety.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)

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