About the Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is really only about 15 years old. Originally the US Film Festival, it became the Sundance Film Festival when Robert Redford and his Sundance Institute became involved in 1991.

The U.S. Film Festival, in the words of Larry Estes, was this place where "films came out of nowhere and turned into this huge thing." It was Steven Soderbergh's feature film, Sex, Lies and Videotape which really exposed the festival as such a place. The U.S. Film Festival, although it struggled quite a bit in its years, seemed like this great, intimate space in the mountains where filmmakers could give their films exposure while still staying away from the skewed ethics and pretense of Hollywood.

To an extent, it really seems like the festival has changed since 1991. The question for me, even though I have been there once before, really remains whether or not it has changed for the better. Has it evolved or devolved in terms of what it originally set out to do? The last decade brought to the festival so much controversy and attention (whether it came from self-servicing yet brilliant mad cats like Tarantino or the ever-controversial Weinstein Brothers, whose film historian Peter Biskind calls, "The Anger Artists". But all this controversy certainly seems to have had a magnetizing effect for celebrities and dilettantes alike. Is Sundance becoming the Hollywood in the mountains?

The question is whether or not Sundance is still this place where films can come out of nowhere and become huge. Friend of Eckerd, Andrew Bujalski's film Funny Ha Ha was not accepted into the festival and this film has been heralded as one of the freshest and unflinchingly independent films of the last few decades by critics all over. And what of this picture that is painted of Redford (admittedly quite a bit by himself) as a friend of the filmmaker? According to Soderbergh himself, "that image... is not what I experienced."

However, the fact remains that Sundance is the biggest, most important film festival in the United States today. It is on some level indicative of the great opportunity there still is for independent filmmakers out there today to get there work seen yet is also struggling, in many ways, to maintain that certain level of intimacy and seeming disconnect from the "big machine in the west" which originally made it so appealing.

Check out more information on the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute.

Ryan Conrath