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Drink Diet Coke! Drive an SUV! Watch an Indie Movie!

In the wake of indie juggernauts Bend It Like Beckham and 28 Days Later comes the Sundance Film Series, further proof that even low-budget films can have big fat promotional support. "What would happen if you gave an independent film the kind of marketing power that only a mini-major could supply?" asks Sundance Channel senior VP of programming Paola Freccero, who is overseeing the endeavor. "What if you gave it TV ads? What if you gave it national promotions? What if you gave it a brand that might compensate for actors you've never heard of? That's our premise."

Following the model of the late, much ballyhooed Shooting Gallery Film Series (which nurtured sleepers like Croupier and A Time for Drunken Horses), the Sundance program will offer two-week theatrical runs in 10 major cities for its four-movie fall slate, which kicks off August 29 with the Spanish musical romp The Other Side of the Bed, peaks with Michael Winterbottom's refugee road movie In This World, and levels off with Sundance 2003 selections Dopamine, a straining sci-tech romantic drama, and Die Mommie Die, Charles Busch's '60s soap send-up.

Freccero admits the films won't be for everyone, but she says the series has the luxury of not worrying about critics, happy endings, or test screenings because sponsors are doling out a formidable $20 million in promotion and advertising. (Trailers for each film will show on 1,400 screens at Film Series partner Loews Theaters around the country.) The trade-off, as with past shotgun marriages between indie film and big money (the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival comes to mind), is the ubiquity of corporate logos.

No previews will precede the films; instead the pre-show will consist of 30-second spots for Coca-Cola (pushing Diet Coke to the apparently weight-conscious indie filmgoer), Volkswagen (peddling gas-guzzling SUVs), as well as other art-house accessories like Kenneth Cole and Entertainment Weekly, followed by a filmed introduction from the director.

While Freccero recognizes that some grumbling about corporate interference is inevitable, she says it's the only way that indie films can break through the clutter. "If it weren't for our sponsors, we would be laughed out of town if we said we're going to open these films with a couple million dollars and see what happens," she says. "We'd have no hope of making that money back."

 
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