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Sex sells at Sundance

A slew of features with explicit sexual themes flood the festival
/ Source: Reuters

If sex sells, as the advertising saying goes, the independent film world should be pleased with this year’s Sundance Film Festival that features a slew of movies with explicit sexual themes and scenes.

Teen sex, elderly sex and gay and oral sex fill a range of movies from dark comedy “Pretty Persuasion” to “How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer,” about three generations of Mexican women.

Among the most talked-about early films of the festival, which entered the second half of its 10-day run Wednesday, was “Inside Deep Throat,” a documentary that tells the story of the most famous porn film of all time and includes sexually explicit scenes from the original.

Even the films that do not feature sexual scenes or themes seem stripped down to basic human emotions, such as former “Friends” star David Schwimmer’s portrayal of a drunken casino boss whose life spins out of control in “Duane Hopwood.”

It seems to be working, so far, for the film distributors who show up at Sundance to acquire movies. Bidding has been hot. Paramount Pictures and MTV Films combined for a $9 million purchase of rap music film “Hustle & Flow.” In recent years, the top deals at the festival ranged from $2 million to $5 million.

The filmmakers say the sex in their movies is there for a reason, not just to challenge mores in an increasingly conservative United States.

“The sex in our movie is designed specifically to hit on one issue ... underage sex and teen sex,” said Marcos Siega, 35, director of “Pretty Persuasions. “I don’t think adults realize how rampant sex is in the culture today.”

Siega’s satire follows a high school girl, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who uses sex as a weapon to manipulate others. It has been a hot ticket in the first half of the festival as has “Garcia Girls,” which explores the sexual longings of a teenage girl, her mother and her grandmother.

This ain't HollywoodThe low-budget indie arena has always been a place where moviemakers can freely explore sexual mores and norms, and the same can be said for writers and directors more concerned with human nature than Hollywood-style action and special effects.

In “Hopwood,” Schwimmer’s fans from the old television hit “Friends” can see him spiral downward through divorce and a lost job due to alcoholism.

Documentary movies, which strip down stories to their essential truth, are also a key element of this year’s Sundance. One of the most talked-about documentaries is “Murderball,” about paralyzed athletes who play rugby in their wheelchairs.

Others scoring big with audiences are “Grizzly Man,” from German director Werner Herzog about a man who studied wild bears and was then killed by one, and “The Liberace of Baghdad,” about Iraqi piano virtuoso Samir Peter.

The market at Sundance has been as strong as last year, which produced hits like “Napoleon Dynamite,” which grossed $44 million and “Open Water,” which grossed $30 million.

Lions Gate Entertainment, which released “Open Water,” bought “Rize,” director David LaChapelle’s look at street dancing called “krumping,” for just under $1 million. It also acquired “Hard Candy,” a story of a teenage girl who meets a 30-year-old man on the Internet, for $2 million plus profit participation for the filmmakers.

Miramax  grabbed rights for English-speaking countries to Pierce Brosnan’s comedy “The Matador” for a hefty $7.5 million.