This week I was privileged to attend the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah — but what made this such a privilege? Well, film festivals are perhaps the most important tools of the independent film industry. To make a long story short, they are essentially places to exhibit, to sell and to party.
As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to market a film. A studio will literally spend millions of dollars to make sure you know about their upcoming films. Indie films generally do not have the budget to do this, and they definitely do not have the budget to compete with the big studio advertising system. Film festivals provide a recognizable outlet to exhibit indie films as well as a pretty good credential (depending on the festival) for the film and filmmaker.
The Sundance Film Festival is the United States’ largest film festival and the second largest in North America behind the Toronto International Film Festival. Because of this and other reasons, Sundance is generally considered the most prestigious festival in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. Sundance is also located in Park City, which is nestled on the other side of the mountains from Salt Lake City. Now, if the idea of Utah plus indie films doesn’t get your boats floating, here are a few more key reasons to go to a film festival.
Reason 1: The Films
Sundance attracts some of the best independent films/filmmakers from not only the U.S., but also the rest of the world. For the most part, all the sorting-through-crappy-indie-films warned about in my last article is done for you at Sundance. It is the job of the programmers to uphold Sundance’s prestige by picking the best films, and they do their jobs well.
This being said, they pick the best films of all different styles, so depending on the style, you could run into a crappy film or — let’s be fair — a crappy style. Either way, there is definitely selection.
There are also optional panels in which the people involved in making the film talk about the films and take questions from the audience. Even if you could care less about the intricacies of filmmaking, it is inexplicably interesting to see the people you see in film, TV, magazine, internet and realize: holy shit, that motherf***** is real!
Reason 2: The People
Damn near everyone who attends Sundance loves films. This leads to perhaps the most positive group of people I’ve ever encountered in a large mass, and I swear I’m not rolling right now and wasn’t then — it’s the truth.
You can come out of the theater and ask just about anyone what they thought about the film and/or what other films they have liked or disliked, and they will answer you.
That is the point of the festival! Watch new films and talk about them as a collective! Think about it: costs, traveling and braving the snow are quite a commitment. Everyone is there because they really want to be.
Now don’t quote me, but the masses that come are also open-minded and intelligent. As we know, ignorance can be exhausting. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many places around the world, but I have never experienced more genuinely positive energy. Let’s just put it this way: even the bus drivers are friendly.
Reason 3: Non-Film Festivities (i.e. Drinking)
So maybe you’re not into being a film critic or maybe you’re not interested in watching more than one movie a day; Sundance still has plenty to offer that’s worthwhile. Particular to Sundance is its unique location. Park City has great resorts with bus and gondola systems that get you there easily. Remember the 2002 Winter Olympics that were in Salt Lake? Well, most events were actually held in Park City. Ever heard of the DC Mountain Lab? Yeah it’s in sight as well. Think Tahoe on a huge dose of steroids.
Maybe you’re not into snowboarding or skiing. Sundance is littered with other artsy outlets ranging from galleries to free lounges filled with upstart bands or billed concerts with big headliners. The musical outlets range from Horse Bones (a folksy indie band I randomly discovered at Hewlett-Packard’s lounge and that you should definitely look into) to Deadmau5.
Speaking of HP’s lounge, another sweet deal about Sundance is all the sponsorship — corporate and upstart. That means: free shit. And free shit ranges from all sorts of different things, from getting free grilled cheese sandwiches to the rare invites to clubs that would cost you 700 bones if you were not on the guest list.
And while we’re on the subject of clubs: Sundance’s boozing nightlife is exceptional, even with Utah’s ridiculous drinking laws (which could be an entire article by itself). In Park City, you’ve got the expensive clubs, which the “A-lists” hang out in (for example, Vegas’s Tao nightclub rents out a building). But you also get a variety of different venues from EOS-esque type clubs/bars to down-to-earth dives where you can get a $2 can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and shuck peanut shells on the ground (or at fellow hipsters).
A trip to Sundance can be quite expensive on the average budget, let alone on the college budget; let’s just say, I am going to be eating canned sardines and my roommates’ left over pizza crusts for a while. I wish I was kidding.
But Sundance is not the only film festival in the world. California alone hosts several respectable film festivals, which, although I can’t promise the same exact characteristics of Sundance, have plenty of worthy entertainment to be experienced. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is going on right now, in fact.
And yes, a good concert is awesome. Yes, a rave can be fun. But why not save that next (few dozen) paycheck(s) and experience something new? Support the independent film industry, have some fun, try something new. I’ll see you there.