The New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development reports that a total of 18 premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which just wrapped, participated in the New York State Film Tax Credit Program — and one of them struck Park City gold.
Anxiously snapped up by Fox Searchlight for a whopping $9.5 million — after Deadline.com reported a “a ferocious all-night auction” between Lionsgate, Neon, Amazon, and Sony — Geremy Jasper’s New Jersey hip-hop, rags-to-radio-hit fable, Patty Cake$, debuted in the U.S. Dramatic Competition to standing ovations.
For storyline, first-time writer/director Jasper tapped into autobiographical details of his own small-town escape from “Dirty Jersey,” including his earlier semi-successful career as an indie rocker. (With a craggy but delicate baritone reminiscent of Jim Morrison by way of David Byrne, Jasper was the vocalist of the popular early-2000’s indie rock band The Fever.) But in Patty Cake$ he updates the North Jersey scene he grew up in, replacing the grandparent guitar rock of Bruce Springsteen with beats and rhymes (lyrics he wrote himself) in sync to the era of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. An impressive musical feat in its own right.
Patty Cake$ gifts zaftig Australian actress and Jasper alter ego, Danielle McDonald, with the charismatic breakout role of 23-year-old rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a/k/a “Killa P”, a/k/a “Patti Cake$”. McDonald brings convincing North Jersey attitude — and accent — to Patti’s struggle to transcend her own dim working-class prospects, if only to avoid following in the bleak footsteps of her rowdy, single, alcoholic mother (a gamely intrepid Bridget Everett), herself a failed rock singer.
Co-navigating Jasper’s tawdry world of strip malls, dive bars, and all-night convenience stores are Patti’s sole friends, a fellow aspiring rapper played by newcomer (and real-life online hip-hop sensation) Siddharth Dhananjay and an angry noise rocker played by Mamoudou Athie (by way of the Yale School of Drama) — also breakout roles. You’ll be hearing much more from these outstanding actors. Rounding out the cast is veteran Cathy Moriarty, as Patti’s ailing but tough-as-nails grandmother.
Patty Cake$ was produced by Michael Gottwald, Noah Stahl, and Dan Janvey, principals in New Orleans-based The Department of Motion Pictures, whose résumé includes Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 Sundance smash, Beasts of the Southern Wild, nominated for four Oscars.
Notably, Patty Cake$ was financed and co-produced by Brazilian outfit RT Features (Rodrigo Teixeira), which boasts an impressive record of backing recent American indie films like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Ira Sachs Love Is Strange, James Schamus’s Indignation, and another 2017 Sundance hit, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, co-scripted by James Ivory and grabbed by Sony Pictures Classics before its first Sundance screening. (At 2014 Cannes, Teixeira and Martin Scorcese also announced a Scorsese-RT Features fund to finance and produce 1st and 2nd features by young directors.)
But the entire crew of Patty Cake$, as well as production and post services, were local to the New York metropolitan area. Argentinian-born DP Federico Cesca, a recent NYU Tisch graduate, rented his ARRI Alexa Mini, lenses, lighting, and grip equipment from Abel Cine Tech and Handheld Films.
Cesca’s other film in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition, Michael Larnell’s Roxanne Roxanne, based on a legendary 1980s hip-hop rivalry that coincidentally also features a young female lead — this time from the Queensbridge projects in Long Island City — attracted its own Sundance bidding war. Although Amazon, Lionsgate and Miramax vied for the rights, new-kid-on-the-block Neon won out, acquiring North American dibs for close to $3 million.
A local NYC production, Roxanne Roxanne was yet another of the 18 films at Sundance that participated in the New York State Film Tax Credit Program for films that shoot or post in New York State.