Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This week at Sundance

For those in-the-know, the acclaimed and highly criticized Sundance Film Festival is going on this week in Park City Colorado. It's the first major film festival of the year and depending who you are--the most important. Sundance unveils the first of the years top films but it's not without a stir. It's among one of the longest running film festivals in the world and competition to get in it is some of the most ferocious there could ever be. A lot of the criticism in recent years has been Sundance's focus on films that are not truly "indie" but more or less platform films for Hollywood stars pushing their prowess in more edgy, dramatic or quirky films whose only distinction from a studio film is the bureaucracy in how it was made.

So what is indie anyways? Is it story? Is it the cast? Is it the budget? Are some directors more indie than others? No. Indie simply refers to a movie that gets it's financing from outside the corporate studio system. Because of this, indie films generally tend to be a lot smaller, and about much more niche topics than the broader, higher budget Hollywood cousins. In short though, the studios are risk averse, they let others do the work for them and test out new ideas and when one sticks, they snatch it up (example: Juno, Little Miss Sunshine) Despite all this, Sundance still is a relatively decent platform for movies that are a little outside the box to make an appearance.

One movie I'm really pumped about this year is a film called "The Kids are Alright," a comedy, which focuses on the story of the children of a lesbian couple who go out to find their birth father. Aside from the subject matter the other hook for it for me is the title of the movie is taken from a song by "The Who," one of the best rock bands of all time! Sundance is a huge boost for these sort of films. Movies like this could go either way if released conventionally. First in trailers, then commercials, then in theaters. What film festivals like Sundance do is spark interest and create hype for audiences to get motivated in seeing things that are slightly different than normal. They rely heavily on the "bandwagon" effect which comes mostly from reviews from notable print and television media outlets and the internet.

Other interesting things at Sundance is a film called "Toads," which is a 3d nature documentary--the first of its kind. There's much hubub about whether or not Sundance should even allow 3d, after all--how indie is that? To answer, Indie is all about putting technology to the fullest, not matter how small the budget is, and raising the standards of what we expect is possible out of the wonderful story telling platform that is film-making.


  1. Good read. I have often been frustrated by films like "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine", purely because they're, in my own opinion, not indies. They're films with name actors, with legitimate budgets, and at the end of the day, you kind of hinted at it, are in all actuality studio films from the get go, just the money doesn't come from the place in the studio's resources that the money for say, "Avatar" comes from.

  2. You're exactly right. It's hard to have a discussion about indie film without a discussion about the new "indie" chic suffice to say -- it's all about branding. In the end, it's really about where the money is coming from. Aside from that, beyond what the budgets really are, in all actuality on most low budget films that have big stars in them, the producers will a lot of times get the actors/actresses to agree to work for something close to SAG's scaled wage instead of the wage their high powered agent could negotiate, but that said, it's incredibly hard to avoid marketing an indie film that has star power as anything more than "Hollywood goes indie," regardless if that's the case or not. It's a very hard label to get around.