Sundance 2006 Wrap-Up

Well, the 2006 Sundance festival is now over, and it marked the 25th anniversary of the Sundance Institute, and the 10th anniversary of the Sundance Channel. Unfortunately, I’m too busy to do much of a real write-up on Sundance itself, but this year it played 120 features, 84 of which were world premieres, and 48 of which were the work of first time filmmakers (although I’m not sure exactly how this is designated). 102 of the films were presented using digital projection, but only 41 films were actually shot on digital formats. There were also 46 documentaries, and lots of shorts.

From what I’ve read of this year’s coverage, the festival itself hasn’t changed much, apart from a put-on, somewhat forced “edginess” to prove that it hasn’t sold out or become too commercial or Hollywoodized. Which is silly, because the world’s largest and most commercially successful indie festival attracts so many big-name celebrities, high-profile reporters, and fashion parties that it is basically a snowbound, less-restrained, mini-Hollywood all on it’s own.

This year, however, the films seemed to have a slightly different flavor. In the past, post-modern indie films could separate themselves from the mainstream simply by leaving off the happy ending, or by not hiring a professional camera operator. These days, though, plenty of studio films are depressing and shaky. So now, in order to be more obviously non-mainstream, indies need to be vehemently anti-mainstream. Which is why most of them seem to focus on negative, sarcastic, and anti-traditional themes, structures, and styles.

This explains why most “vibrant” indie films have hyperbolic political messages and shockingly independent content (allowing the filmmakers to blame any subsequent failure on the unfair puritanical censorship of the vast right-wing conspiracy). Which is also silly, because the whole reason to go to Sundance (apart from the aforementioned media attention and party scene) is to network with Hollywood players, studio scouts, and distribution execs so you can get a mainstream contract or sell your film.

Nevertheless, it’s important to watch what happens at Sundance, and most of the lectures and Q&As with professional filmmakers are very valuable. For example, Quinceanera and Puccini for Beginners were both shot on HD, and their directors explained some of the issues involved in production. Also interesting reading were some panel discussions on the changes affecting theatrical distribution, internet distribution, and internet marketing.

The entire film industry is undergoing extensive change at the moment. On the surface are the new and upcoming developments in camera gear, editing programs, and special effects, which make truly independent and privately funded films possible. The deeper issues, which are ultimately more important, involve the distribution and marketing of the final product. The even deeper issues involve the actual quality of the films being produced, and the creation of an independent industry, as opposed to a bunch of sanctimonious rebels with cameras. At present, the indie film movement has all the organization of a misguided protest rally, and to a large extent, that’s all it is.