Posted by Roxanna Bina on January 22, 2010 10:47 AM
When is an independent film festival no longer independent?
When it becomes the Sundance Film Festival, apparently.
The evolution of any independent art form -- from music and film to art and literature -- into the mainstream is often a slow and barely discernable process. What started as an underground venture somehow ends up attracting celebrities sporting Oakley’s lip balm and Lia Sopia jewelry.
The Sundance Film Festival, even according to the most forgiving definition of the term “independent,” is hardly that – at least anymore. And this reality is a problem for both the festival’s name, and its brand.
The festival began 26 years ago as an effort to showcase new talent operating with low budgets. However, over the years, this significant film festival has become more commercial, squeezing out the true independents. The Sundance Film Festival noticed this, and brought on a new director, John Cooper, as of last March.
Cooper is focused on bringing back the festival’s artistic and independent spirit. This year, for example, Sundance will sponsor an event called “Next,” which showcases films made with no or very low budgets. Both making and showcasing independent films requires walking a very fine line, as salability and artistic integrity are often mutually exclusive.
Many major studios -- including Paramount Vantage, Warner Independent, and Picturehouse -- have closed their indie branches due to economic reasons. And this raises a number of nervous questions within the independent film community. Will, for example, this give the true independents back their spotlight? Will buyers even want to buy these smaller budget films?
In other words, no one really knows if these independent movies will see the light of day when not backed by a major studio.
Last year’s grand jury prize winner was “Precious,” starring Golden Globe winner Mo’nique, which proves that an independent film can still be a box office hit and maintain its artistic quality. However, these selections have been few and far between.
Among the 113 movie contenders this year, Sundance’s selections include “Howl,” starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, “Blue Valentine,” starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, and Ryan Reynolds in “Buried.”
With fewer star-driven films this year, The Sundance Film Festival begins a new “renaissance,” not just for it’s own brand, but for indie films everywhere.