Independent Film and the Sundance Experience by Mariah Torres

After researching and attending the Sundance Film Festival I feel like I have a greater understanding of the festival’s role in supporting independent filmmakers as well as increasing the public’s awareness and appreciation of independent film. Part of what was so exiting about being there was the sense that everybody was open and interested in experiencing something outside the norm. A passion for film as an art form pervaded the festival. I was surprised at the wide variety of content, it really covers the spectrum, from narrative feature films, to foreign documentary, to crazy experimental films; there is something to peak every interest. Yet having such a unique selection of films in one place also encourages you to seek out those films you don’t usually go for, and in this way it fosters growth and progression within the film going public.

As we learned in class, and saw at the festival, independent films tend to feature unusual or nonlinear plots, multi-dimensional characters who are often female, minorities, poor, homosexual, less attractive, and so on, not your usual Hollywood fare. The themes may be darker or more taboo than the average popular film, with an emphasis on character development. I noticed these attributes in literally every film I saw at Sundance, and while I love a good blockbuster or action flick, I really appreciated the intense characters studies most of the films I saw featured.  Considering the quality of a great deal of the work, it amazes me that they were able to film in such a short amount of time. In the Q&A session after one film, the young female director told us she shot the movie in 27 days, which was seemingly luxurious to the Sundance crowd. The low budgets and short shooting timelines these filmmakers have to contend with in order to create engaging and movies stories is a credit to their passion and skill. I was heartened to see so many young directors, female directors, writer-directors, and first time directors. I genuinely liked the majority of the films I went to, and I think the prevalence of quality is due to the fact that in the unglamorous independent film world, everyone there is committed and believes in the story they are telling.

At the Festival there is an atmosphere of fostering new up and coming talent, and a collaborative effort to get their work out. There are people there who work in film at every level, from directors to writers, production assistants and so on. For people in the industry it can function as a place to network or meet other people with similar interests in film. But there are also tons of people who come just for fun, because they love watching movies and are interested in what’s new. You can meet some interesting folks just standing in the waitlist line, most of them are pretty friendly and you might as well chat if you’re going to be there for a few hours.

The evolution of the festival, from its very humble beginnings to the prestigious and well respected event it is today is remarkable. It was helpful to have a working knowledge of the types of films that the festival has supported in the past, as well as how it got started. The U.S. Film Festival, as it was then called, was first held in 1978 in Salt Lake City. The festival only moved to Park City many years later when director Sydney Pollack suggested they move it to winter and have it in a resort community to attract more people; a golden suggestion on his part. The early evolution of the festival seemed so fly by the seat of your pants; it gives me a greater sense of appreciation for how it turned out and what a big role it has had in advancing independent cinema.

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