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January 3, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Rising young producer lands spot in Sundance Film Festival

TERRE HAUTE — When a project clicks, the moment is clear.

A mechanic solves a misfiring engine and revs it up. A cook serves up lunch to a packed diner crowd and they leave smiling. A teacher gets a struggling student to understand algebra.

Or, a rising young producer helps create a movie that earns an elite spot in the Sundance Film Festival.

Former Terre Hautean Milan Chakraborty finds himself in that situation right now through the film “The Lifeguard.”

Chakraborty and fellow producers Liz W. Garcia (also the writer and director), Mike Landry, Carlos Velazquez and Joshua Harto landed “The Lifeguard” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category at Sundance — the prestigious festival that draws more than 40,000 film fans, industry insiders and stars to venues in the Utah towns of Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden each January. The event gives up-and-coming independent filmmakers the chance to showcase their work to a global audience and is best known for its Oscar-winning supporter, Robert Redford.

Chakraborty entered the movie-making profession at age 29. He’s now 34.

 “The Lifeguard” is his fourth production. The berth at Sundance, which runs from Jan. 17 to 29, is indeed one of those “click” moments.

“It’s not just about me,” he said, emphasizing the teamwork involved, “but for a producer to get a film into Sundance is kind of a validation of what you’re doing.”

It’s a tough lineup to crack. More than 12,000 films were submitted for the 2013 Sundance festival. Only 142 were selected for its various categories. Just 16 made the cut for the competition level. For more than 30 years, Sundance has exposed audiences to films that became iconic, such as “Reservoir Dogs,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

“The Lifeguard” features a notable acting cast, starring Kristen Bell (of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) as a woman whose work and love life unravel as she approaches age 30 in New York City. She moves back to her Connecticut hometown, reclaims her high school job as a lifeguard and her childhood friends. As a Sundance synopsis puts it, the movie “revels in the fantasy of reverting to a responsibility-free time and cleverly coaxes its characters into the realization that safety can sometimes be a trap.” The cast also includes Mamie Gummer (“Emily Owens, M.D.” and the daughter of Meryl Streep), Martin Starr (“Knocked Up”), Amy Madigan (“Field of Dreams”), David Lambert, Alex Shaffer (“Win Win”) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (“Heroes”).

Chakraborty brings a unique background to his role as a partner in the Hollywood-based Attic Light Films. The 1996 Terre Haute South Vigo High School grad is a certified public accountant, with a degree in accounting from The College of William and Mary. He spent two years in that field with the Arthur Andersen firm, before moving into a job with the internal audit department of Time Warner Inc. Eventually, Chakraborty transferred to the Filmed Entertainment group with Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema.

Using his accounting mind, he specializes in the business side of film production. “I kind of have the aptitude to do the things in film that a lot of people think are boring,” Chakraborty said with a chuckle, in a telephone interview last month. “At the same time, film is not paint-by-numbers.” And that is why he’s surrounded by folks skilled in the creative side of the craft. Thus, the term “independent” film is a bit misleading.

“It’s really one of the most dependent things you can do,” Chakraborty said. “It really does take a village.”

Chakraborty’s home “village” — Terre Haute — has experienced an early sample of his cinematic portfolio. His first film as a producer, “Rock Slyde,” was shown in December 2009 in the Indiana Theatre as a benefit for a memorial in honor of fallen soldier Dale Griffin — Chakraborty’s former South classmate. Chakraborty attended the showing and renewed acquaintances with longtime friends in the audience.

Since “Rock Slyde,” Chakraborty has produced three more movies — “Spaz” (filmed in New York), “Alter Egos” (shot in The Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y.) and “The Lifeguard” (filmed in Pittsburgh). “Alter Egos,” with a superhero plot, is currently being distributed through video-on-demand outlets, Amazon.com and iTunes. “The stories [behind those three follow-up films] just captured me from the first time I read them,” Chakraborty said. The momentum from that trio of films followed a short lull after “Rock Slyde” for Chakraborty, but he never stopped preparing for the next step.

“The way it works is, you have all those plates spinning, then something catches fire,” he explained.

The job keeps him moving. He shuttles between New York and Los Angeles, while making stops to visit his parents, who now live in Georgia. Sundance will take him to Utah, with likely trips to festivals in Berlin and elsewhere. “Home is where the suitcase is,” Chakraborty quipped.

Lately, the click of his suitcase has been joined by the click of movie-making success.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

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