Sundance Film Festival

Last updated

Sundance Film Festival
Current event clock.svg 2023 Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival.jpg
Location Park City, Utah, U.S.
Sundance Resort, Utah, U.S.
FoundedAugust 1978;45 years ago (1978-08) (as Utah/US Film Festival)
Founded byJohn Earle
Sterling Van Wagenen
Most recentJanuary 19–29, 2023
Hosted by Sundance Institute

The Sundance Film Festival (formerly Utah/US Film Festival, then US Film and Video Festival) is an annual film festival organized by the Sundance Institute. [1] It is the largest independent film festival in the United States, with more than 46,660 attending in 2016. [2] It takes place each January in Park City, Utah; Salt Lake City, Utah; and at the Sundance Resort (a ski resort near Provo, Utah), and acts as a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. The festival consists of competitive sections for American and international dramatic and documentary films, both feature films and short films, and a group of out-of-competition sections, including NEXT, New Frontier, Spotlight, Midnight, Sundance Kids, From the Collection, Premieres, and Documentary Premieres. [3] Many films premiering at Sundance have gone on to be nominated and win Oscars such as Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role.



1978: Utah/US Film Festival

Sundance began in Salt Lake City in August 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival in an effort to attract more filmmakers to Utah. [4] It was founded by Sterling Van Wagenen, [5] head of Robert Redford's company Wildwood Enterprises, Inc, and John Earle of the Utah Film Commission. The 1978 festival featured films such as Deliverance , A Streetcar Named Desire , Midnight Cowboy , Mean Streets , and Sweet Smell of Success . [6]

The goal of the festival was to showcase American-made films, highlight the potential of independent film, and increase visibility for filmmaking in Utah. The main focus of the event was to conduct a competition for independent American films, present a series of retrospective films and filmmaker panel discussions, and celebrate the Frank Capra Award. The festival also highlighted the work of regional filmmakers who worked outside the Hollywood system.[ citation needed ]

In 1979, Sterling Van Wagenen left to head up the first-year pilot program of what became the Sundance Institute, and James W. Ure took over briefly as executive director, followed by Cirina Hampton Catania. More than 60 films were screened at the festival that year, and panels featured many well-known Hollywood filmmakers. Also that year, the first Frank Capra Award went to Jimmy Stewart. The festival also made a profit for the first time. In 1980, Catania left to pursue a production career in Hollywood.[ citation needed ]

1981: US Film and Video Festival

Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, in Park City, Utah, is one of the festival's oldest and most recognizable venues Egyptian Theater during Sundance 2018.jpg
Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, in Park City, Utah, is one of the festival's oldest and most recognizable venues

In 1981, the festival moved to Park City, Utah, and changed the dates from September to January. The move from late summer to midwinter was done by the executive director Susan Barrell with the cooperation of Hollywood director Sydney Pollack, who suggested that running a film festival in a ski resort during winter would draw more attention from Hollywood. It was called the US Film and Video Festival.[ citation needed ]

1984: Sundance

In 1984, the now well-established Sundance Institute, headed by Sterling Van Wagenen, took over management of the US Film Festival. Gary Beer and Van Wagenen spearheaded production of the inaugural US Film Festival presented by Sundance Institute (1985), which included Program Director Tony Safford and Administrative Director Jenny Walz Selby. The branding and marketing transition from the US Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival was managed under the direction of Colleen Allen, Allen Advertising Inc., by appointment of Robert Redford. In 1991, the festival was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival, after Redford's character the Sundance Kid from the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid . [7]

The Sundance Film Festival experienced its extraordinary growth in the 1990s, under the leadership of Geoffrey Gilmore and John Cooper, who transformed the venue into the premier festival in the United States, on par of Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Toronto International Film Festival (also known as The Big Five). That crucial era is very well documented in Professor Emanuel Levy's book, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Cinema (NYU Press, 1999, 2001, 2011), the most comprehensive chronicle of Sundance and the Indie movement over the past four decades.[ according to whom? ]

Spin-offs in other locations

Sundance London (2012– )

UK-based publisher C21 Media first revealed in October 2010 that Robert Redford was planning to bring the Sundance Film Festival to London, [8] and in March the following year, Redford officially announced that Sundance London would be held at The O2, in London from April 26 to 29, 2012; the first time it has traveled outside the US. [9]

In a press statement, Redford said, "We are excited to partner with AEG Europe to bring a particular slice of American culture to life in the inspired setting of The O2, and in this city of such rich cultural history. [...] It is our mutual goal to bring to the UK, the very best in current American independent cinema, to introduce the artists responsible for it, and in essence, help build a picture of our country that is broadly reflective of the diversity of voices not always seen in our cultural exports." [9]

The majority of the film screenings, including the festival's premieres, would be held within the Cineworld cinema at The O2 entertainment district. [10] The 2013 Sundance London Festival was held April 25–28, 2013, and sponsored by car-maker Jaguar. [11]

Sundance London 2014 took place on April 25–27, 2014 at the O2 arena; [12] however the 2015 Festival was cancelled in an announcement on January 16, 2015. [13]

Sundance London returned to London from June 2–5, 2016, [14] and again June 1–4, 2017, [15] both at Picturehouse Central in London's West End. The 2018 and 2019 events continued at the same venue. [16]

Films shown at the 2019 event included the controversial dark tale The Nightingale , US comedy Corporate Animals , Lulu Wang's The Farewell (which won the Audience Award [17] ) and Sophie Hyde's film based on Emma Jane Unsworth's novel about female friendship, Animals . [18]

The 2020 event in London was postponed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. [19] It was not rescheduled until July 2021. [20]

Sundance Hong Kong (2014–)

Inaugurated in 2014, Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong has taken place in 2016, 2017, 2018 and from September 19 to October 1, 2019. It is held at The Metroplex in Kowloon Bay each year. [21]

The 2020 events in London and Hong Kong were postponed due to impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and as of late 2021 has not been rescheduled. [19]

Sundance at BAM

From 2006 through 2008, Sundance Institute collaborated with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on a special series of film screenings, performances, panel discussions, and special events bringing the institute's activities and the festival's programming to New York City. [22]


Many notable independent filmmakers received their big break at Sundance, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Todd Field, David O. Russell, Steve James, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, James Wan, Edward Burns, and Jim Jarmusch. The festival is also responsible for bringing wider attention to such films as Saw , Garden State , American Psycho , Super Troopers , The Blair Witch Project , Spanking the Monkey , Reservoir Dogs , Primer , In the Bedroom , Better Luck Tomorrow , Little Miss Sunshine , Donnie Darko , El Mariachi , Moon , Clerks , Thank You for Smoking , Sex, Lies, and Videotape , The Brothers McMullen , 500 Days of Summer , Napoleon Dynamite , Whiplash , CODA , and Boyhood .

Three Seasons was the first in festival history to ever receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award, in 1999. Later films that won both awards are: God Grew Tired of Us in 2006 (documentary category), Quinceañera in 2006 (dramatic category), Precious in 2009, Fruitvale (later retitled Fruitvale Station ) in 2013, Whiplash in 2014, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in 2015, The Birth of a Nation in 2016, Minari in 2020, and CODA in 2021.

At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, three films went on to garner eight Oscar nominations. [23] Manchester by the Sea took the lead in Sundance-supported films with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. [23] The next year, about 40 films were acquired by distributors, among them including Amazon, Netflix, Lionsgate, and Universal. [24]

CODA became the first Sundance film to win an Oscar for Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards. [25]

Growth of the festival

The festival has changed over the decades from a low-profile venue for small-budget, independent creators from outside the Hollywood system to a media extravaganza for Hollywood celebrity actors, paparazzi, and luxury lounges set up by companies not affiliated with Sundance. Festival organizers have tried curbing these activities in recent years, beginning in 2007 with their ongoing Focus On Film campaign[ citation needed ].

The 2009 film Official Rejection documented the experience of small filmmakers trying to get into various festivals in the late 2000s, including Sundance. The film contained several arguments that Sundance had become dominated by large studios and sponsoring corporations. A contrast was made between the 1990s, in which non-famous filmmakers with tiny budget films could get distribution deals from studios like Miramax Films or New Line Cinema, (like Kevin Smith's Clerks ), and the 2000s, when major stars with multimillion-dollar films (like The Butterfly Effect with Ashton Kutcher) dominated the festival. Kevin Smith doubted that Clerks, if made in the late 2000s, would be accepted to Sundance. [26]

Numerous small festivals sprung up around Sundance in the Park City area, including Slamdance, Nodance, Slumdance, It-dance, X-Dance, Lapdance, Tromadance, The Park City Film Music Festival, etc., though all except[ citation needed ] Slamdance are no longer held. [27]

Included in the Sundance changes made in 2010, a new programming category titled "NEXT" (often denoted simply by the characters "<=>", which mean "less is more") was introduced to showcase innovative films that are able to transcend the confines of an independent budget. Another recent addition was the Sundance Film Festival USA program, in which eight of the festival's films are shown in eight different theaters around the United States. [28]

The total economic benefits Sundance brings to Utah is estimated to be $167 million in 2020. [29]

The 44th went virtual for the first time in 2021.


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Film festival</span> Event with films being shown

A film festival is an organized, extended presentation of films in one or more cinemas or screening venues, usually in a single city or region. Increasingly, film festivals show some films outdoors. Films may be of recent date and, depending upon the festival's focus, can include international and domestic releases. Some film festivals focus on a specific filmmaker, genre of film, or subject matter. Several film festivals focus solely on presenting short films of a defined maximum length. Film festivals are typically annual events. Some film historians, including Jerry Beck, do not consider film festivals as official releases of the film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Redford</span> American actor and filmmaker (born 1936)

Charles Robert Redford Jr. is an American actor and filmmaker. He has received numerous accolades such as an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and two Golden Globe Awards, as well as the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1994, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1996, the Academy Honorary Award in 2002, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, and the Honorary César in 2019. He was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Independent film</span> Film done outside of the major film studio system

An independent film, independent movie, indie film, or indie movie is a feature film or short film that is produced outside the major film studio system in addition to being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies. Independent films are sometimes distinguishable by their content and style and how the filmmakers' artistic vision is realized. Sometimes, independent films are made with considerably lower budgets than major studio films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sundance Resort</span> Resort in the Wasatch Range in Utah County, Utah, United States

Sundance Resort, also known as Sundance Mountain Resort, is a ski resort located 13 miles (21 km) northeast of Provo, Utah. It includes more than 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Range. Alpine skiing began on the site in 1944. Actor Robert Redford acquired the area in 1968, and established a year-round resort that would later spawn the independent Sundance Film Festival and the non-profit Sundance Institute. The resort was first listed as a census-designated place (CDP) before the 2020 census.

Sundance TV is an American pay television channel owned by AMC Networks that launched on February 1, 1996. The channel is named after Robert Redford's character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and, while it is an extension of Redford's non-profit Sundance Institute, the channel operates independently of both the Institute and the Sundance Film Festival.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Picturehouse (company)</span> American film company founded in 2005

Picturehouse is an American independent entertainment company owned by CEO Bob Berney and COO Jeanne R. Berney. Based in Los Angeles, the company specializes in film marketing and distribution, both in the U.S. and internationally. Its releases have included La Vie en Rose (2007), which earned an Academy Award for Best Actress for Marion Cotillard, Metallica Through the Never (2013), and Adam Wingard’s Sundance Film Festival selection The Guest (2014), an Independent Spirit Award nominee starring Dan Stevens.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sian Heder</span> American writer and filmmaker (born 1977)

Siân Heder is an American filmmaker who is best known for writing and directing the films Tallulah and CODA. CODA earned Heder an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also won the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Barbara International Film Festival</span> Annual film festival held in Santa Barbara, USA

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is an eleven-day film festival held in Santa Barbara, California since 1986.

Indiewood films are those made outside of the Hollywood studio system or traditional arthouse/independent filmmaking system yet managed to be produced, financed and distributed by the two with varying degrees of success and/or failure.

In 1969, Robert Redford purchased 6,000 acres (24 km2) at the base of 12,000-foot (3,700 m) Mount Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. He named this land Sundance. The Sundance Group is a listing of all the businesses that run under the Sundance corporate umbrella started by and run by actor Robert Redford.

Amy Hart Redford is an American actress and filmmaker.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sundance Institute</span> American non-profit organisation

Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford committed to the growth of independent artists. The institute is driven by its programs that discover and support independent filmmakers, theatre artists and composers from all over the world. At the core of the programs is the goal to introduce audiences to the artists' new work, aided by the institute's labs, granting and mentorship programs that take place throughout the year in the United States and internationally.

Jeffrey McDonald Chandor, better known as J. C. Chandor, is an American filmmaker, best known for writing and directing the films Margin Call (2011), All Is Lost (2013), A Most Violent Year (2014), Triple Frontier (2019) and Kraven the Hunter (2024).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2011 Sundance Film Festival</span>

The 27th annual Sundance Film Festival took place from January 20, 2011 until January 30, 2011 in Park City, Utah, with screenings in Salt Lake City, Utah, Ogden, Utah, and Sundance, Utah.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2013 Sundance Film Festival</span> Film festival held from January 17, 2013 until January 27, 2013

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival took place from January 17, 2013, until January 27, 2013, in Park City, Utah, United States, with screenings in Salt Lake City, Utah, Ogden, Utah, and Sundance, Utah.

Sterling Gray Van Wagenen is an American film and stage producer, writer, director, and convicted sex offender. He is a co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, and, in association with his former cousin-in-law Robert Redford, he was the founding executive director of the Sundance Institute.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Candescent Films</span>

Candescent Films is an American film production company that produces and finances documentary and narrative films that explore social issues.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi</span> American film director

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi is an American documentary filmmaker. She was the director, along with her husband, Jimmy Chin, for the film Free Solo, which won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film profiled Alex Honnold and his free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Redford (filmmaker)</span> American filmmaker (1962–2020)

David James Redford was an American documentary filmmaker and environmentalist.

Keri Putnam is an American film, media and arts executive and producer and current chief executive officer at Sundance Institute. She is a former executive vice president at HBO Films, and former president of the production at Miramax films.


  1. Friedman, Megan (January 27, 2010). "A brief history of Sundance Film Festival". Time. ISSN   0040-781X. Archived from the original on September 11, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  2. Stambro, Jan Elise. "The Economic Impacts of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival" (PDF). Bureau of Economic and Business Research. University of Utah. Archived from the original (pdf) on March 21, 2021. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  3. "Structure of the Sundance Film Festival". Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  4. "Films – Sundance Film Festival – A Brief History". BBC. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  5. "Redford's Wildwood Enterprises and PBS Bring "Skinwalkers" to the Small Screen | PBS About". Redford's Wildwood Enterprises and PBS Bring "Skinwalkers" to the Small Screen | PBS About. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  6. Craig, Benjamin. "History of the Sundance Film Festival". Sundance-A Festival Virgin's Guide. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  7. Peden, Lauren David (December 2005). "Sundance Subdued". Freedom Orange County Information ( Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  8. Benzine, Adam (October 7, 2010). "Exclusive: Redford plans London Sundance". C21 Media. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  9. 1 2 Farmer, Stephen (October 2012). "Robert Redford, Sundance Institute And Aeg Europe Launch Sundance London At The O2". AEG Worldwide . Archived from the original on May 5, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  10. "Robert Redford, Sundance Institute and AEG Europe launch Sundance London at The O2". Sundance London. March 15, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
  11. "Sundance London 2013". Sundance London. March 1, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  12. "Sundance London 2014 unveils lineup". Digital Spy. March 24, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  13. "Sundance London 2015 cancelled, festival's future under review" . Archived from the original on January 11, 2022. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  14. Pierrot, John-Paul (April 20, 2016). "Sundance Film Festival: London 2016 – Programme Announced". Picturehouse Blog. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  15. Pierrot, John-Paul (April 25, 2017). "2017 Sundance Film Festival: London – Programme Announced". Picturehouse Blog. Retrieved July 21, 2017.[ permanent dead link ]
  16. "Sundance Film Festival 2019: London". Premier. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  17. Dalton, Ben (June 3, 2019). "Lulu Wang's 'The Farewell' wins Sundance London 2019 audience award". ScreenDaily. Archived from the original on June 3, 2019. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  18. Thompson, Jessie (May 28, 2019). "Sundance London 2019 line-up: First look at this year's film festival programme". ES. Evening Standard. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  19. 1 2 Ramachandran, Naman (March 25, 2020). "Coronavirus: Sundance Postpones London, Hong Kong Festivals". Variety. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  20. "2021 Sundance Film Festival: London to Take Place 29 July–1 August at Picturehouse Central OPENS WITH EDGAR WRIGHT'S "THE SPARKS BROTHERS"with Cinema Screenings Nationwide and a Simulcast Q+A". May 6, 2021. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  21. "Sundance". Archived from the original on July 5, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  22. "Sundance Mixed With Stars, Politicians". BAM. Archived from the original on January 12, 2008. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  23. 1 2 Quinnette, Celia (January 24, 2017). "8 oscar nominations for films from the 2016 sundance film festival". Sundance TV. Archived from the original on October 2, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  24. "The Complete List of Movies Sold at Sundance 2016, and Why Amazon and Netflix Went All Out". Vulture. Archived from the original on October 30, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  25. "How 'CODA' made history for the Sundance Film Festival with Best Picture Oscar win". The Salt Lake City Tribune. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  26. Kevin Smith, interviewed in Official Rejection, documentary film, 2009, directed by Paul Osborne
  27. Official Rejection, documentary film, 2009, directed by Paul Osborne
  28. Clark, Cody (January 22, 2010). "Redford launches 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City". The Daily Herald . Archived from the original on January 24, 2010. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  29. "Economic Impact – 2020 Sundance Film Festival" (PDF).
  30. Kay, Jeremy (March 11, 2009). "John Cooper steps up as director of Sundance Film Festival" . Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  31. Cieply, Michael (February 17, 2009). "Shakeup in Film Festivals as a Familiar Face Moves". The New York Times . Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  32. "Sundance Institute announces John Cooper as Director, Sundance Film Festival" (PDF) (Press release). Sundance Institute. March 11, 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 7, 2010. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  33. "About". Sundance. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  34. Kohn, Eric (June 7, 2022). "Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson Is Leaving the Organization". IndieWire. Retrieved May 17, 2023.

Further reading

40°38′33″N111°29′42″W / 40.64250°N 111.49500°W / 40.64250; -111.49500