Sundance is a festival that needs little introduction. Its ascendancy during the 1990s has been exhaustively chronicled in recent books such as Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Rebels on the Backlot, and The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood, and the list of films and directors “discovered” there seems to grow every year. Its role in shaping the independent film landscape continues to be a contentious subject (as more than one astute critic pointed out, last year’s breakout hit Little Miss Sunshine is the sort of broad comedy the major studios might have released during the 1980s; how it came to be a dark horse contender for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture is anyone’s guess), but it nevertheless remains the festival where up-and-coming filmmakers dream of debuting their work.
Midway through the 2000s, it shows little sign of slowing down. Last spring, the Sundance Institute formed an alliance with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to bring films, panels, and events associated with the Festival to the East Coast, and those unable to make it to either Park City in January or Brooklyn in May can watch daily re-caps of Festival highlights on the Sundance Channel beginning on January 19. Yielding to the trend of “platform agnosticism” (as delineated by David Denby in a recent New Yorker piece), the Festival will make its short films accessible for free viewing on their website and available for download and purchase on iTunes. Free podcasts will feature panel discussions recorded at the Festival, and the Sundance Channel will also be running a series entitled 10 Days of Sundance Favorites, featuring films and shorts from previous years’ festivals.
Despite this flurry of activity, the spotlight will remain fixed on the movies and the celebrities who trek out in their parkas and snow boots to promote them. Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore heralds this year’s crop of films as bucking the pattern of insularity that plagued so many American indies of the 1990s, a claim backed up by a cursory glimpse at the program. The Festival’s Opening Night Film is Chicago 10, a documentary that uses inventive techniques to render the trial of the protestors charged with conspiracy in connection with the violence at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, and other films include Grace is Gone, in which John Cusack plays a father grieving over the death of his wife in Iraq; Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, a documentary in which both perpetrators and victims are interviewed; Everything’s Cool, a global warming documentary that no doubt hopes to capitalize on the success of last year’s An Inconvenient Truth; and Never Forever, a feature in which an American housewife begins an affair with an illegal immigrant from Korea.
Although Sundance is an easy target for criticism (even founder Robert Redford joined in the chorus last year, citing the omnipresence of parties – and Paris Hilton – as evidence that the Festival is “getting out of control”), it remains a vital showcase for films that are, if not entirely independent, then at least willing to engage with subject matter that Hollywood generally shies away from. (It should also be noted that a large proportion of the films showcased at Sundance have been directed by women.) So as the great beast formerly known as the US Film Festival ambles into its 26th year, I look forward to elbowing my way past the celebrities and settling into a packed theater to watch what are destined to become some of the year’s most talked-about, praised, derided, and debated films.
The 2007 Sundance Film Festival will run from Thursday January 18th to Sunday the 28th. Refer to this page over the next few weeks for reviews of select Festival films.
|Chicago 10||25 January|
|Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait||26 January|
|Snow Angels||26 January|
|Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten||30 January|
|Grace is Gone||05 February|