The Sundance Film Festival: An Avenue for Aspiring Filmmakers
by Jeffery Cao on Friday, February 10th, 2017
Cameras, flashes, and neon signs! You step out of the car in your sharp suit or long dress, and you take your first few steps on the red carpet. But you’re no famous actor, actress, or director, nor are you standing on the red carpet of Hollywood or Broadway. Smiling, you find yourself bombarded with questions by the press who calls you that “promising new kid on the block.” You are an aspiring, young filmmaker who has just run into his “big break” and is attending one of the biggest film festivals of the year.
This venue is the famed annual Sundance Film Festival, a huge festival hosted by the Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah. According to the institute, the festival topped 46,660 attendees just last year, officially making it the largest independent film festival in America. Held from January 20th to the 29th, this year’s Sundance Film Festival attracted tens of thousands of people and received thousands of submissions. Because Sundance sees such a wide variety of audiences, independent films of all kinds — documentaries, short films, features — have a shot at acclaim.
The proliferation of high-resolution cameras and powerful video editing technology has made it increasingly difficult to stand out among the tens of thousands of films being released every year. But while the festival’s acceptance rate is usually at single digit percentages, the chances aren’t as dauntingly slim as they might seem.
Sundance’s partnerships with film “recruiting” companies along with the event’s well-known name within the niche of the film community greatly increase the chance that filmmakers receive critical attention after showing their films. According to No Film School, 4 out of 5 films that “make it into Sundance get distribution deals”—that is, 80% of Sundance films are noticed and picked up by big companies for production-level, big screen distribution. Indeed, Sundance puts the spotlight on a plethora of films and filmmakers from all genres in the independent film industry. Numerous award-winning movies — ones that you’ve likely heard of — were directed by individuals who had previously gained major recognition at Sundance.
Damien Chazelle, director of the hit La La Land, was one filmmaker who has experienced a major breakthrough in his career thanks to a short film submitted to Sundance. Whiplash, which portrayed a drummer pushed by an abusive teacher towards musical excellence, started as a short film that won Sundance’s short category in 2013. Only after this break could Chazelle secure the resources needed for the production of a full feature-length version of Whiplash. Premiering in theaters the following year, Whiplash won two top awards at Sundance 2014 but was also nominated for five and won two Academy Awards. Despite being filmed with a limited budget, Whiplash proved to other aspiring filmmakers that quality craftsmanship can reap rewards. The success didn’t stop there: Chazelle’s more recent La La Land received “rave reviews,” as reported by the Boston Globe’s Heather Ciras, and earned a record-breaking seven Golden Globes.
Prominent director Ava DuVernay also found initial success at Sundance. With her feature film Middle of Nowhere, DuVernay won the prize for best director at the 2012 Sundance film festival, becoming the first African American woman to ever take this prize. Middle of Nowhere was later picked up by production companies and found further acclaim after its distribution. In 2014, the release of DuVernay’s Selma, which was centered around the Selma to Montgomery marches and activist Martin Luther King, Jr., garnered positive reviews from audiences. DuVernay became the first African American woman to be nominated for not only a Golden Globe but also a Best Picture.
The Sundance Film Festival stands as an incredible opportunity for young independent filmmakers who are just spreading their wings. While it’s not the big screen, the festival is a place for growth. The implications spread even as far as us here, at Milton Academy. For those of us students who are aspiring young filmmakers — at film classes, Film Club, or any other indie production — Sundance and similar opportunities hold a special place in our hearts.
Sundance opens doors for independent filmmakers of limited resources: one of the best films of the 2015 Sundance, Tangerine, was shot on an iPhone and edited with an $8 app. So, if you ever find yourself with a burning desire to show something to the world, to get some friends together and create a film — take up a camera, or even a phone, and start filming. Write a story, take on a character, or direct a cast. The filmmaking industry is no doubt a demanding and competitive industry, but because of places like Sundance, the hard-working and persistent may one day find themselves staring out into a crowd of applause, basking in hard-earned recognition.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8637