Independent Film: The Ugly Stepsister with a Really Cool Personality by Erik Johan Strand

Ah, what a glorious and magnificent experience the Sundance Film Festival is: the fresh, powdery snow, the movies, the celebrities. There is so much to take in you run the risk of experiencing sensory overload. Having been a Sundance “newbie” slightly more than few weeks ago, I have returned to the Golden State a seasoned veteran willing to share my experience and knowledge with you.

First, I would like to acknowledge my total surprise by the friendly demeanor of everyone present at the Festival. True, there was and always will be the occasional snob (“I would pay double to see a film if it meant no corporate sponsorship.” Whatever you say lady…), but in general everyone was extremely welcoming and open to sharing their experiences. I can’t even tell you how many cool people I have met, including directors, actors, producers, film students, and even a couple crazies, but they were extremely nice crazies. Since there is a lot bus riding and waiting involved, plenty of opportunities will present themselves to you so be sure to take full advantage of them when they come along. After all, you never know whom you might meet!

But enough about people, who am I kidding? Sundance is all about the movies! This year I saw, nay, I experienced some absolutely amazing films. Never before have I ever seen such a wide array of movies in such a short span of time. To clarify, the movies selected for this year’s Festival span topics including pornography, killer whales, pornography, video games, and even pornography! Okay, my statement may be slightly hyperbolic but it is not far off. Case in point, I saw a documentary about pornography in a Jewish Temple. Yeah, let that soak in for a moment. Take another moment, I can tell you are still soaking it all in. Moving on, there was indeed a lot of subject matter represented at the Festival, though, and it was cool to be able to watch films handling some really unique, bizarre, and challenging concepts.

Even cooler, though, was how close I was to the celebrities involved with the film! I told myself before I landed in Park City, “Erik. Don’t be one of those weird fans who tackle celebrities and ask them to sign your forehead and declare how you will never wash your forehead again.” I am pleased to announce I was successful in this endeavor and I abstained from allowing anyone to sign my forehead. Instead I let them sign my movie tickets and forced them to take a picture with me. The celebrities present were actually really friendly and the majority of them are more than happy to take a photo and act like they are interested in your life. They are actors after all.

Amidst this explosion of excitement, however, there is still a lot to be learned about the industry of independent film. Before I started learning about the history of the Sundance Film Festival I only viewed independent film as the ugly stepsister to the mainstream Hollywood films. Turns out that could not be further from the truth. Well maybe that much further; independent film is like mainstream Hollywood’s ugly stepsister, but she has a much cooler personality. Independent film likes to talk about heartbreak, the search for identity, our culture’s obsession with escapism, and, well, pornography. Mainstream Hollywood is a lot flashier but it lacks emotional depth (See: anything with Kristen Stewart). Sundance presents filmmakers with an opportunity to do something different, to stretch the limitations of traditional film making, to change the world! Unfortunately, money finds its way into all good things and Sundance is no different. Many producers and filmmakers are still very aware of the cost of making a film, as well as the potential for striking gold. However, creativity and unique vision is still what is hailed most of all, and Sundance remains one of the few bastions of hope for storytelling and myth crafting. Every year films like Fruitvale, Cutie and the Boxer, Escape From Tomorrow, hell even films like The Rambler (be sure to check out my review for the film) find a way to shine bright like a diamond – I don’t know why I just quoted a Rihanna song lyric, but its too late to turn back now (Editor’s note – Worst song ever, should have turned back…) – by emphasizing the art of storytelling and characterization. As long as Sundance retains its focus on developing and supporting these elements, the ugly stepsister known as independent film will continue to grow and develop until it blossoms into a slightly less ugly stepsister. What? Did you think I was going to say a butterfly or something? No way, that is so mainstream.

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