If you had to ask movie buffs to name the Big Daddy of film festivals their answer would almost certainly be: Sundance.
Renowned, revered and running for three decades, the Sundance Film Festival is the most important film event in the United States, and one of the largest and most prestigious festivals in the world. From its inaugural fest in 1985, where 13 staff oversaw a programme of 86 films screened in 2 theatres, Sundance has grown to become a colossus of cinema celebration – its 30th anniversary in 2014 saw more than 12,000 films and shorts submitted for consideration, with 186 carefully curated works screened across 9 theatres, and with the event attracting 700 sponsors and requiring 1,830 staff and volunteers. More than 50,000 people attended screenings in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance in the state of Utah in January.
Famed for having actor Robert Redford as its president and founder – the festival name is a nod to his character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – the Sundance Film Festival is the leading showcase for exciting new filmmakers and innovative films and is accepted as one of the main marketplaces for American and international independent movies. The mission of the Festival programming team is to find features and documentaries that ‘inspire, challenge, delight, startle, move and thrill’ audiences, and give them a platform which can frequently lead to major distribution deals.
Such is Sundance’s status that many independent filmmakers work towards completing their films in readiness for the festival, with the knowledge that it attracts significant attention from industry insiders, distributors, programmers and international journalists. Many first-time filmmakers owe Sundance and its parent organization, the Sundance Institute – which provides year-round support for artists via workshops and fellowships – a debt of gratitude for their first steps into the business, including Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs, Steven Soderbergh with sex, lies, and videotape – which went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes – and Kevin Smith’s Clerks.With various awards, competitive and non-competitive screenings, premieres, and a raft of supporting strands and events such as media installations, gala parties, live music and director/cast Q&As, Sundance is a deeply immersive and enriching ten days for cinephiles. There have been protests in recent years that the fest has become too big, with complaints that it has allowed the Hollywood mainstream – with its attendant paparazzi and celebs – to hijack the event to the detriment of indie films and their creators, but its organizers have been keen to address this with their Focus on Film campaign.
The Sundance Film Festival heads into its 31st year in 2015, taking place at various venues in and around Park City from January 22nd to February 1st.