The Sundance Film Festival

Written by: Joe Yang

Overview: Established in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival was originally called the US Film Festival. It was renamed in 1991 after becoming part of actor/director Robert Redford's Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah.

One of the most high profile film events in the US (and world), the purpose of the festival is to promote and showcase films made outside the Hollywood system. In other words, the focus is on independent films and filmmakers. Taking place annually in January, the ten day festival screens roughly 125 feature-length films (including documentaries and foreign films) and about 90 shorts. Much of the focus is on the best of new American independent filmmakers.

Film panels and retrospective screenings are also held, as well as opportunities for industry insiders and filmmakers to mingle. And like other high-profile film festivals, the Sundance Film Festival now attracts a huge number of celebrities and journalists, rendering it a major media event in the entertainment industry.

Major corporate involvement in promoting the Sundance Film Festival has become a point of controversy for many, as they feel that it subtracts from the artistic focus of the festival's history and original intent.


Independent Feature Film Competition: This is pretty much the main event, which showcases two types of films: Dramatic films and Documentary films. Roughly sixteen or so films are selected to be shown in this competition (in both categories), and all must be independent films made in the US.

World Cinema Competition: Similar to the above, only the rules are tailored to international filmmakers.

Short films: About ninety short films (from the US and other nations) are selected from the whopping thousands or so that are annually submitted. These films compete for Jury Awards.


Spectrum: In this category, films that the selection jury liked but did not select for competition eligibility, are screened. These films are both narrative and documentary features.

New Frontier: Films from this category are generally experimental in nature.

From the Collection: A non-competition category, two films are shown as part of a retrospective screening. These are typically features from the past which have made a large impact in the history of independent film, made possible by a joint effort on the part of the Sundance Institute and the renown UCLA Film & Television Archive. They do everything they can to preserve historical films and restore them so when screened, don't look like those scratched-up '60's science films you watched back in high school where the lip sync is off by about 9 seconds.

Park City at Midnight: This is where they screen really weird, messed-up films that would probably be banned even from youtube. Films from this category are from a mix of genres, such as horror, insane animation, whacky comedies, and probably some really sick stuff that couldn't be defined in any logical fashion.

Awards: Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic Audience Award, Documentary Audience Award, World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary Audience Award, Dramatic Directing Award, Documentary Directing Award, Excellence in Cinematography Award, Freedom of Expression Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Special Jury Prizes, Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking, Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking, Online Film Festival Jury Awards

Remarks: Despite the Sundance Film Festival being such a major event in the world of film, the Institute still prides itself on its dedication to discovering new talent. They claim to screen every submission received, regardless of budget, lack of connections, and lack of celebrity backing.

But make no mistake- most films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival already have distribution deals and all sorts of other financial backing in place.

Therefore, you'd be naïve to think that a film made with access to professional resources and gobs of money is going to be weighed exactly the same as a movie made by some broke but talented kid who had to borrow a friend's video camera and do all the editing on a cracked version of Final Cut while skipping math class.

The number of films submitted to Sundance must literally be in the thousands, and it's a mystery to me as to how they manage to find the time to watch all those movies.

But the folks at Sundance say they do just that. So for all you hopeful filmmakers out there, give it your best shot and click here.

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