The first weekend of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival has come to an end. And what a fantastic first weekend it was. From the premieres, to the parties, to Q&A’s, panels, and all the special events… I think everybody at Flick Fans is in complete agreement that these past four days have been fucking magical. We’re talking Disney Land type shit. Literally, this is adult Disney Land for people who love films.
Being that this place is indeed, beyond majestic and obviously has so much history… we thought it would be a great idea to educate some of our readers about its origins and the important happenings that have taken place since its inception.
So come with us now on a journey through time and space, as we explore Sundance’s humble beginnings, emphasize their notable milestones, and marvel over the countless classic films/directorial careers which were born right here – Neatly organized, so damn easy to read, all while being a wonderful adventure ahead.
Sundance emerges in Salt Lake City, known then as the Utah/US Film Festival.
The idea behind its launch was to attract more filmmakers to the great state, LOL, giving a louder voice to independent cinema while showcasing strictly American-made films.
It was founded by famed actor Robert Redford (who also took the chairman role) meaning that the media attention was not slow to follow.
Classic films which were shown during its year of inception: Deliverance, A Streetcar Named Desire, Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, and The Sweet Smell of Success.
Already expanding a shit ton, more than 60 films were screened this year and they even reportedly turned a profit in only year two.
Some big changes happened in 1981… most notably the relocation to Park City, Utah, as well as changing the late summer-September date to mid-winter January. This allowed the festival to operate on a ski resort/ski-season to draw more ticket sales.
They also changed the name to the US Film and Video Festival.
This is where the festival started to take a new turn – often considered to be the year where the true core of Sundance started. Reason being? Because the established Sundance Institute took over the management (even if the name still remained as the US Film and Video Festival).
86 films were screened in 1984, as this number only continued to rise.
The undiscovered Coen Brothers premiered their neo-noir crime film Blood Simple. They ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize, putting them in the middle of the map for the rest of time. As we already know, their well-deserved success which followed this win has been vast and impressive, as the two brothers have gone on to be nominated for thirteen Academy Awards over their careers since.
Michael Lehmann’s black comedy Heathers earned a much larger following thanks to their Sundance screening this year, going on to be considered one of the greatest high school movies of all time.
This is the first year over 100 films were screened!
One of those film’s were Michael Moore’s directorial debut Roger & Me, which became the most successful documentary in American history up to that point – being preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Moore himself went on to be called one of the most important documentary directors of our time.
Finally! This was the year when the name officially changed to the Sundance Film Festival.
Little side fact: The name “Sundance” comes from Robert Redford’s character in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. AS IF YOU DIDN’T ALREADY KNOW THAT.
Quentin Tarantino premiers his feature-length directorial debut, the heist-thriller Reservoir Dogs, to a stunned audience. It actually didn’t win any awards, but has since been considered by many as the greatest independent film of all time. Since then, Tarantino has continued to provide the goods, as he is known as one of the most influential and revered directors the world has ever seen.
Here, Wes Anderson had his debut, the 13-minute crime-comedy short Bottle Rocket. Due to the warm response, Wes was encouraged to turn this idea into a full length feature… sadly rejected by Sundance in 1996. However, it still helped launch Wes’ career and he is now regarded as one of the true greats in modern day cinema.
New Jersey-native Kevin Smith premiers his directorial debut, Clerks. Despite only being shot for a mere $27,575 it won the Filmmakers Trophy and went on to earn over $3.2 million at the box-office. It is still often listed as one of the funniest films ever made and helped launch that hockey jersey wearing bastard Kevin Smith’s interesting film career.
Mike Newell’s romantic-comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral also screened this year, becoming the highest-grossing British movie in history at that time. Nominated for two Oscars, winning a Golden Globe, it is adored to this day as one of the best British rom-com’s ever.
In this year four filmmakers who had their projects rejected by Sundance got together and created the Slamdance Film Festival. Taking place at the exact same time, this was their way of directly standing up against the growing lack of low-budget and independent films represented at Sundance. Their criteria was simple: every film entered must have been shot for under $1 million.
Slamdance went on to boast the screening of Christopher Nolan’s 1996 debut neo-noir crime film Following – which was refused by Sundance. It won the Black & White Award and gave Nolan a bigger name – eventually becoming the legend he is today.
Slamdance also get the credit for first screening Oren Peli’s 2007 supernatural-horror Paranormal Activity, that grossed $193.4 million and spawned a whole franchise following.
These films as well as various other Slamdance examples proved Sundance was turning their back on some seriously well-made productions, as their selection process started to come into heavy questioning.
That said, Sundance still had a fantastic 1995, notably with Richard Linklater’s romantic drama Before Sunrise, known as one of the best lovey-dovey flicks of all time – spawning two equally acclaimed (and incredible) sequels. Bryan Singer’s mystery film The Usual Suspects was also screened this year, winning an Academy Award for Best Writing and Best Supporting Actor (that being Kevin Spacey of course, back when we were allowed to like him).
So how’s Kevin Smith doing? Just fine as in this year he screened romantic-comedy-drama Chasing Amy, my personal Smith favorite and in my opinion his most mature effort still to this day.
20,014 people attend this year, the first time they hit over 20,000.
A midnight screening of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s supernatural-horror film The Blair Witch Project exploded on the scene, still adored as a landmark in the horror genre – It grossed nearly $250 million worldwide from a tiny $60,000 budget. Thus making it one of the most successful independent films of all time.
Also, Three Seasons became the first movie in the festival’s history to receive both the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award.
Others notable screenings included: Go by Doug Liman, and Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrel.
Notable screenings that kicked off the new millennium were Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and Mary Harron’s American Psycho, both of which were well received and directed by amazingly talented women.
220 films were screened this year, the first time they ever exceeded 200.
Quite big names appeared for the first time too, such as: Richard Kelly for his creepy cult classic Donnie Darko, Jay Chandrasekhar’s hilarious Super Troopers, and Richard Linklater’s stylistic Waking Life. Christopher Nolan also gets his invitation to the Sundance party as they screen one of the greatest of the 21st century… Memento
Attendance really begins to skyrocket in ’03, with 38,707 attendees – 18,000 more people than the year prior.
Gurinder Chadha’s sports-drama Bend it Like Beckham drew in much recognition during its World Cinema screening slot, ultimately becoming the first Western film to be shown on North Korean television.
James Wan’s gruesome directorial debut Saw premieres, kicking off the biggest horror franchises of the last 20 years, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me premiers as well – earning over $11,500,000 worldwide as it became the 22nd highest-grossing documentary of all time while earning a Best Documentary Academy Award nomination.
Others notable screenings included Zach Braff’s Garden State, Jared Hess’ debut Napoleon Dynamite, and Ondi Timoner’s highly acclaimed DIG!
Yet another attendance surge, now up to 46,771.
Wait, what? Another surge? Sorry for the redundancy… but one year later and #BOOM – 52,849 attendees reached.
’06 was also the year of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ comedy-drama Little Miss Sunshine, becoming a cult steam train, nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture).
In other news, online festival-related videos posted on the Sundance site became an immense focal point o… collecting over one-million views by the end of the festival.
By this point at Sundance, it was commonplace for many people to criticize the ever so famous festival. One of the biggest criticisms was how the organizers were losing grip of the initial concept, which was to help small-budget independent underdogs. Instead it seemed as if they were simply allowing non-Hollywood essence to be buried beneath the celebrity spotting, luxurious lounges, and commercial branding, somewhat defeating the whole purpose.
To combat these notions, Mr. Redford announced the Focus on Film campaign slogan, urgeing all attendees to go and watch as many movies as they could – Reminding them why they were there in the first place.
James Marsh’s biographical documentary Man on Wire premiers – Winning the Grand Jury Documentary Prize. After which, it went on to win the Outstanding British Film BAFTA and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It is one one of only a handful of films to boast a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The documentary Official Rejection was released, highlighting the difficulty that small filmmakers face whilst trying to get their work into festivals. A large portion of this animosity was directed towards Sundance, as they argued the once independent nature of the brand had been diminished by large studios and sponsoring corporations. This sentiment was echoed by Kevin Smith, who doubted that his 1994 award winning movie Clerks would have even been considered in this day and age.
Sundance marched forward though, with the premiers of Duncan Jones’ directorial debut, Moon and Marc Webb’s debut 500 Days of Summer – Both of which receiving much praise and admiration.
Once again, Robert Redford addresses the general concerns over the festival’s loss of independent spirit, blaming marketers and celebrities for the decline. He went on to say: “It kind of engulfed what we did. You end up with parties and celebrities and Paris Hilton. And that’s not us. Sundance has nothing to do with any of that.”
In an attempt to rekindle their indie roots, Sundance hired a new festival director, allowed online users to stream films, and opened a new category specifically for low-budget submissions.
Filmwise, Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered, and the anonymous graffiti artist surprised everyone by hiding street art all around the Salt Lake area.
Other notable premieres were: David Michôd’s crime-drama Animal Kingdom, and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone – Leading to four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
The festival received a record breaking 10,279 film submissions this year.
For the first time ever, the festival traveled outside of the US with Sundance London officially opening for business in 2012.
Sundance announces that from 1985 until 2013, roughly 20 million feet of 35mm film had been used at their screenings… being able to span the distance from New York to Paris.
Richard Linklater returns, with his third (and final) chapter in his great romantic trilogy, Before Midnight. Just like the two that came before, it received widespread critical acclaim, and was nominated for every award under the sun.
Another notable 2013 screening was Jeff Nichols’s coming-of-age drama Mud.
30 year anniversary of Sundance!
Damien Chazelle‘s drama Whiplash premieres, winning the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, then onto winning three Academy Awards a little later.
Richard Linklater AGAIN back at it… this time premiering the coming-of-age film Boyhood, which was filmed over the course of 12 years – Ultimately being nominated for six Oscars (winning one) and five Golden Globes (winning three).
Another notable entry: Iain Forsyth/Jane Pollard’s documentary musical drama 20,000 Days on Earth.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s comedy-drama Me and Earl and the Dying Girl premiers, winning both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.
The love continues to spread around the globe with Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong kicking off to wide-spread acclaim.
Another record breaking amount of attendees flood the Sundance gates this year with over 71,600 people joining the party.
Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy Get Out also premieres, receiving almost unanimous resounding praise from all viewers whilst being nominated for two Golden Globes shortly afterwards. *And probably a few Academy Awards as well come tomorrow. Most notably for Best Picture.*
And that pretty much brings us up to date!
Naturally, it will take a few months to truly understand 2018’s distinctions in the greater scheme of the Sundance timeline, but one inarguable truth is that this festival has continuously thrived with near unstoppable momentum. Essentially every year has flaunted a larger crowd and increased quantity of screenings – Cementing Sundance’s importance in the filmmaking world, consistently being a platform for the most influential directors we’ll ever get to see.
Our only wish is that they continue the good fight for struggling independent talent, even if “Sundance” is actually an old Indian word that means publicity. Few people know that though.
By Jared Woods