SUNDANCE - A FESTIVAL VIRGIN'S GUIDE
Having acquired an almost-mythical status amongst many filmmakers, the Sundance Film Festival is perhaps best known as the flagship of the American independent film resurgence in the 1990s. Although the event has also gained notoriety for hyperactive press people and staggering acquisition deals, behind these so-called excesses is a film festival which, in the face of explosive growth and a good deal of unjustified criticism, has steadfastly managed to retain its focus on two of the most important things in a film festival: the filmmakers and the audience.
Sundance has come a long way since taking its first bow in 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival. Not only has it survived a host of adversities – from debt to internal politics, hypercritical press, and the fact that it’s based in a part of America which is not renowned as a hotbed of film-industry activity – Sundance has managed to thrive and take its place on the stage alongside the world's best film festivals, most of which are more than twice its age.
Regardless of the myths and hype, the Sundance of today still feels very much like a real film festival. The program remains centred on discovery and the festival has managed to resist intense industry pressure to refocus its competition sections on studio or star-driven films. Much of this feeling also stems from the egalitarian nature of the screenings: filmmakers and festivalgoers attend the same movies, and the post show Q&A sessions offer fans a real chance to engage with the filmmaker on a level not possible at most other events. The lack of in-your-face commerciality found at many other large festivals is also a refreshing change; those attending outside the publicity, sales, or acquisition sectors find that Sundance has a fairly leisurely pace and a friendliness which is unparalleled at events of similar stature. There are no red carpets, no tuxedos, and no limos (although you do see the occasional stretch SUV). The king of American film festivals certainly deserves its crown.