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Originally published Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 6:59 PM

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Seattle filmmakers shine brightly at Sundance

Filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Linas Phillips move ahead with a boost from the Sundance Film Festival, which ended a week ago.

Special to The Seattle Times

Nothing could top Seattle's showing at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which spotlighted an unprecedented three Northwest-based feature films.

But the 2010 festival — which closed last weekend — demonstrated that this region's filmmakers are quietly building on their success.

Lyall Bush, executive director of the Northwest Film Forum, says 2009 was an "annus mirabilis," unlikely to be repeated.

But "in the past year I think we've seen a bumper crop of opportunities for filmmakers along with the emergence of yet another local favorite, Linas Phillips" — a recent Seattle resident whose film "Bass Ackwards" screened in Sundance's low-budget Next category this year.

Writer/directors Lynn Shelton ("Humpday") and David Russo ("Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle") have followed up with new projects: Shelton directed a series of shorts for MTV's "$5 Cover: Seattle," and Russo is now working on a project with the Blue Man Group.

Last year's festival also boosted such local producers as Jennifer Roth, who helped finance the 2009 Sundance feature "World's Greatest Dad" and who is now a producer on Director Darren Aronofsky's next film.

Seattle-based crews — cinematographers, editors, designers — are working steadily behind the scenes on everything from commercial shoots to feature films here and elsewhere.

The local filmmakers are also at the forefront of major changes in how viewers will get access to independent films.

Increasingly, movies that premiere at festivals will be available as video-on-demand releases via the Internet, cable or satellite.

Phillips released "Bass Ackwards" immediately after its Sundance debut as video on demand through outlets including iTunes, Amazon.com, and YouTube. He plans to release it later in an expanded DVD format.

Shelton's "$5 Cover" project is an Internet venture, which means viewers decide how and when they watch — and distribution costs are low.

This year, Sundance itself released three festival films — the documentary "The Shock Doctrine," the comedy "Daddy Longlegs," and the thriller "7 Days" — as video on demand via the new Sundance Selects label on cable and DirecTV.

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"Moving the storytelling of the Sundance Film Festival beyond 10 days in Utah remains a top priority for us," said Robert Redford, founder of Sundance Institute.

Another Seattleite made a big splash at the festival: Bill Gates was there to promote Davis Guggenheim's documentary "Waiting for Superman," which explores the sorry state of American public education. Gates appears briefly in it, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is financing some of the innovative projects in the film.

"We just think this is the kind of film that has the ability to raise awareness," said Greg Shaw, who oversees the foundation's U.S. programs and was in Park City for the premiere.

His take on the movie: "I laughed a lot, and I also cried a lot."

Microsoft's Bing search engine also became an official festival sponsor this year, and Gates created a celebrity-style sensation at cocktail parties, private dinners and late-night concerts at the Bing bar on Park City's Main Street as crowds strained to catch a glimpse of him.

Christy Karras blogs about arts, entertainment, outdoors and travel at thelifeworthliving.com.

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