PARK CITY, Utah -- What happens when a ragtag group of paleontologists takes on the federal government?
How does a paleontologist digging for bones in South Dakota wind up serving 18 months in prison?
And how did the “Dinosaur 13" filmmakers get access to decades-old footage to tell the story of the discovery of the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Sue?
Todd Miller, the director of the Sundance Film Festival documentary, dropped by the Los Angeles Times Studio in Park City to discuss how these issues touch on his movie, which opened the festival Thursday night.
The movie, screening in the festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition section, centers on paleontologist Pete Larson, who along with his team discovered the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex on record while on a 1990 dig in the badlands of South Dakota.
But an intense legal fight over control of the massive skeleton kicked off shortly after the discovery. The bones were seized by the federal government, on grounds that Larson and his Black Hills Institute didn’t have the right to possess them.
The fight involved the FBI, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a landowner, Maurice Williams, on whose property the bones were discovered.
Larson and his colleagues were eventually indicted on charges connected to the discovery and sale of fossils, but the legal case was unrelated to the T-rex discovery. He was sent to prison for 18 months.
After its premiere, the film attracted major buyer attention -- including interest from IFC, HBO, Netflix and Magnolia Pictures -- before selling to CNN Films and Lionsgate.
Watch the video of our conversation with Miller above.