Festival Structure

The astronomical growth experienced by the festival during the 1990s created a need to expand the number of films screened and introduce more effective ways of grouping them together for easy digestion by the audience. Over the years, the festival has experimented with a range of different sidebars and today, no less than eight separate sections make up the Sundance Film Festival program.

Dramatic and Documentary Competitions
These sections showcase the best new work from American independent filmmakers in two categories: dramatic narrative films and feature-length documentaries. Films in these programs tend to get the lionís share of acquisitions and media attention. Around 16 films compete for a variety of prizes in each category. The competitions are restricted to American independent films which will have their world premiere at Sundance.

World Cinema Competitions
Ever since its early days as the U.S./Utah Film Festival, Sundance has presented some of the best of independent world dramatic and non-fiction filmmaking to Park City audiences. In 2008 the World Cinema sections were expanded into a fully-fledged competitive event to match the festival's global status. International films now compete for a variety of awards in two streams: dramatic and documentary. Around 16 films of each type are selected for the World Cinema competitions.

Shorts Competition
Short filmmaking has long been a proving ground for new talent and a test bed for groundbreaking approaches to storytelling. The Sundance Film Festival Shorts program recognises this talent and experimentation by bringing short films to a wider audience. Sundance shorts are either shown before a main feature or grouped together into feature-length programs and compete for a selection of jury awards. The competition is open to dramatic, documentary, and animated short films from the U.S. and around the world.

This is an invitation-only showcase program for new films from respected American and international directors. Films in the Premieres program usually have theatrical distribution in place, but are invited to take part in the festival on the basis of their compelling stories or innovative approaches.

This showcase program presents out of competition films from around the world which foster the spirit of independent filmmaking. It provides programmers with a way to bring to the screen compelling new films which may not be suitable for the festival's competitive events.

Park City at Midnight
Perhaps the most notorious Sundance program, Park City at Midnight has long had a reputation for screening films guaranteed to provoke a reaction. Historically, tremendously diverse films that range across many genres and subject matters have occupied these screening slots. The 'rags to riches' success story of The Blair Witch Project has its roots in the buzz generated from its midnight screenings during the 1999 festival, but the program has also served up over-the-top comedies, gory horror, surreal drama, and explicit animation for late-night audiences. As the festival itself suggests, Park City at Midnight is "a good place to find a new cult classic."

New Frontier
Sundance has long recognised the importance of exposing audiences to alternative filmmaking methods and experimental films that push the boundaries of cinema. Frontier is the banner under which Sundance programmes experimental film, media-based performances, and installations which revel in the convergence of art and digital media.

From the Sundance Collection
A partnership between the Sundance Institute and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Sundance Collection is the first film archive devoted specifically to the restoration and preservation of independent cinema. Since its inception in 1997, the collection has grown to include more than 500 independent fiction, documentary, and short films. Each year, the Sundance Institute selects two films from the archive (usually newly preserved or restored works) for special screenings in Park City during the festival.

For the full run-down on the structure of the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you pick up a copy of Sundance - A Festival Virgin's Guide.