I must sheepishly admit a fact that some may claim is a mark of journalistic dishonesty. I have never attended the Sundance film festival. But in my defense, I thoroughly enjoyed 127 Hours and I have never mountain climbed. One can appreciate any number of differing enterprises without actually participating in these enterprises. It is a purely sensory fueled experience. This arresting fact, after all, is why we all love film. I can visibly discern the stunning beauty of Tolkein's Middle Earth or Indiana Jones' many harrowing journey's through antiquity. But I will never experience these revelations from a place of physical discovery.
As I delve into movies on a more regular basis, my itch for experiencing all-that-the-film-world-has-to-offer becomes overwhelmingly resonant. Logically, Sundance is an ideal meeting ground for film lovers. Logistically, it is a disappointingly faraway land from my house. But since I have been contagiously bitten by the film bug, I absolutely must make a concerted effort to attend Sundance. And by this time next year, I hope to be sharing my thoughts with you bloggers, as I joyously lodge in Park City, consorting with a swath of promising new films, inside scoops, and everything indie. Honestly, I cannot wait for this cinematic bombardment.
For those of you unfamiliar (shame on you) with this iconic US film festival, I will provide some background. Held every January in Utah, Sundance is the foremost showcase for emerging works from American and International independent filmmakers. The festival consists of both feature-length films and short films (dramatic or documentary), as well as non-competitive showcases: the New Frontier, Spectrum, and Park City at Midnight. The festival has undergone a stark change over the decades; a little known venue for independent productions has now definitively become a media extravaganza for everything Hollywood. The infamously cumbersome paparazzi have even managed to parade around the festival. Rules of thumb; if the paparazzi find you newsworthy, then you are newsworthy...for good or for bad.
Sundance is an admirable festival because of its tenacity in highlighting the works of independent filmmakers. Robert Redford's involvement from the outset has been integral to Sundance's abounding growth. Fittingly, the name Sundance derives from Redford's iconic role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As the inaugural chairman, Redford's role in the development of the festival has been enormously fruitful.
Independent filmmakers consider Sundance an invaluable resource. Aside from the increased exposure, placement alone in the festival carries weighty prominence. A rigorous selection process is the hallmark of any new film entry. Time is of the essence. With only a limited amount of manageable hours in the day to watch each new film on the festival's line-up, the expectation of reasonable quality exists. Sundance is a ten-day film bonanza. Therefore, it is critically (no pun intended) important to present films that have an indelible quality. If a film critic is immersed by ten films a day, the necessity for impact-style cinema is crucial. This factor does not preclude the presence of any art house or non-dramatic films. It just reaffirms the fact that substantive judgments must be made, when determining which films deserve the spotlight. Inevitably, some films will be left out, mistakenly or intentionally.
The beauty of Sundance is, in essence, synonymous with the beauty of discovery. This fact is quite vivid. 10,000 submissions are sent out to Sundance every year, but only about 120 feature films make the cut. As the technology to make a film—particularly an indie film—becomes less expensive and more accessible, the volume of submissions to the festival prodigiously rises. According to Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds, "business is a-boomin." Consequently, the process of selection is daunting, as selectors must cull down this gigantic list of entries into a formidable array of movies. The festival undergoes an assembly line style selection process that begins with lower-level volunteers and contract employees who sign up to sift through the myriad submissions. Their job is to rank the films and then pass them onto a second tier of review; a programming associate, whose job it is, to screen hundreds of hours of film for the festival. These film-festival gatekeepers are instrumental in the review process, as their work influences the top decision makers—who ultimately, decree the final judgment. Thus, entry into Sundance is a significant accomplishment. The process of ferreting out which films will be screened during the festival's run is arduous. But film fans, such as myself, reap the glorious rewards, as many of the films spotlighted by Sundance go on to be some of the best movies of the year; truly diamonds in the rough.
Like Crazy, a romantic drama from director Drake Doremus, has become the festival's hottest commodity thus far. After an intense bidding session, Paramount Pictures won the rights to the film for an estimated $4 million. If you are like me and do not consider this a paltry sum of money (Mike Tyson would probably scoff at this amount), then it is abundantly clear that Sundance has a negligibly robust impact on the film industry. From both a financial and artistic standpoint, Sundance is mightily instrumental to the medium. If you refuse to take my word for it, ask Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan or Paul Thomas Anderson. If Sundance did not exist, many of these directors may still be toiling in obscurity; a sobering thought indeed. The greatest quality of Sundance is its relentlessly proficient mode of discovery: Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Clerks, and Napoleon Dynamite represent just a few samples of the magically inventive work that Sundance spotlights. Well Sundance, I am shining the spotlight back on you. Undoubtedly, Sundance is a festival designed for the film-centric personality. Intentionally, Sundance is also a festival, where an unsuspecting film fan can uncover The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. If you do not believe me, just ask Morgan Spurlock.
|Reservoir Dogs: The film that launched Quentin Tarantino's career and, according to Empire, is "The Greatest Independent Film of All-Time," first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in 1992.|
Click this link for the Official Sundance Film Festival Website
*Also, below is a unique video documentation of ten days @ Sundance. I give my warmest thanks to the guys who made this video. Bravo.