Today, the Sundance Film Festival is a world-renowned gathering of filmmakers and film industry bigwigs, and the Sundance Institute is recognized as one of the premier organizations fostering independent filmmaking. The Festival and Institute share the goal of promoting independent voices in American and international filmmaking, but with slightly different methods driving each communal experience. The Festival provides a venue for films and the opportunity for filmmakers at the margins to connect with the people who can bring their creation to the mass market and boost their careers. The Institute focuses on helping filmmakers hone their creative and practical filmmaking skills.
The histories of the Festival and the Institute are forever intertwined, and crucial to the success of both was the involvement of Robert Redford. The Sundance Film Festival began in August 1978 as the Utah/U.S. Film Festival with the goal of attracting filmmakers to Utah. One of the co-founders was head of Redford’s company Wildwood. That first year, the Frank Capra Award was presented to Jimmy Stewart, and the jury included actress Katharine Ross, editor Verna Fields, director Mark Rydell, and visual effects pioneer Linwood Dunn, ASC.
In 1979, the first steps were taken toward what would become the Sundance Institute. Redford and a group of friends envisioned an environment that would foster discovery and nurture new voices in American film. In 1981, 10 emerging filmmakers who had demonstrated talent and potential were invited to the first Sundance Institute Filmmakers/Directors Lab, where they were mentored by leading writers and directors from Hollywood, and developed their original scripts and ideas into viable projects. The artists were encouraged to take creative risks and stay true to their own unique visions, while simultaneously facing the hard questions that must be answered in order to make such a project a cinematic reality. A similar program for playwrights soon followed.
Since then the Sundance Institute’s programs have expanded. The Feature Film Program has supported more than 300 feature films, including Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Howl, Cherien Dabis' Amreeka, Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, and Walter Salles' Central Station, among others. Meanwhile the Documentary Film Program has assisted more than 500 fledgling nonfiction films.
Kodak’s support of the Institute includes a recently announced 50-percent discount to Sundance Institute Fellows on any Kodak camera negative or reversal stock. All Sundance Lab Screenwriting, Directing or Producing Fellow alumni who are beginning principal photography in 2011 on their Lab project are eligible.
One current example is Little Birds, a Sundance-supported film that will screen at this year’s festival. Directed by Elgin James and photographed in 35mm 2-perf format by cinematographer Reed Morano, the film follows two adolescent girls as they navigate the shifting sands between childhood and adulthood. James says that the support from Sundance not only helped him make his film, but helped him change his troubled life around.
| Kay Panabaker (left) rides home in a scene from Little Birds. (Photo by Reed Morano, © Hunting Lane Films 2011)|
In 1984, the Sundance Institute took over management of the U.S. Film Festival and in 1991 changed the name to the now-familiar Sundance Film Festival. A short list of the successful filmmakers who got their first big break at the Festival includes Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Edward Burns and Jim Jarmusch. It’s no accident that this list also comprises some of the most original cinematic voices of our time. The Festival has also introduced audiences to an amazing roster of independent films including Reservoir Dogs, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Splendor, An Inconvenient Truth,Little Miss Sunshine, and The Cove, among many others.
Furthermore, the Institute is committed to supporting the artists who participate in its programs beyond the Lab and grant-making level. For instance, The Art House Project is a collaboration with art house cinema in cities around the country that brings Sundance-supported films and other special programs to local audiences, thus fostering cinema buffs in towns and cities across the country.
Recognizing the importance of our cultural history, and filmmaking’s crucial place in it, the organization funds and oversees the Sundance Institute Archives, which documents the organization’s history and preserves the creative processes of the artists in the programs. The Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA is dedicated to collecting and preserving independent cinema, which too often is poorly archived and subject to deterioration.
Kodak has a longstanding commitment to Sundance. In addition to the famous Kodak Filmmaker Party, this year’s edition of the festival will feature a Kodak-sponsored conversation with Oscar®-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and a panel discussion titled “Shooting Low Budget Features on FILM!” Additionally, more than 20 feature projects photographed on Kodak film will screen in competition.
While indie filmmakers continue to find ways to express their art creatively while simultaneously balancing that with the business of filmmaking, Kodak products and services remain a constant. As past and present indie filmmakers have relied on film to capture their vision and bring it to audiences with the best quality visuals, so does the next generation. Kodak applauds the indie spirit, and looks forward to seeing and experiencing the amazing stories that the 2011 festival and Lab Fellows have to contribute to the cinematic arts!