The first day that we were at Sundance, Robert Redford held a press conference where he said, "we program it like a film festival, not a market." Well that may be true. Sundance may be very careful in its selection process to choose films that are independent, that focus on important issues, that are documentaries that highlight voices that might not otherwise be heard. All of that may be true and all of that certainly would point to Sundance being a festival and not a market.
I was there, however. I experienced the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. My take on it, as a person who regularly attends festivals all over the world, is that Sundance is more of a convention for Hollywood tucked away in Park City under some really big festival banners.
A festival is supposed to be festive. With festivities. Now, Sundance certainly had festivities, but those festivities were all private parties that were accessible only by invitation. And those invitations? They were doled out to those with faces that have appeared on actual movie screens or those who might have a pocketbook large enough to secure distribution rights for the independent movie that was most recently screened. In other words if you were not a person with a recognizable face or a buyer from a Hollywood studio or someone from the press that matters or perhaps fell into that murky category of "beautiful person who will make the party more fun" then you were not included in the festivities.
This exclusion of those of us who were actually there to see the films that were being screened felt both unnecessary and, at times, unfair. I would be saying this even if I had been one of those people inside the party instead of outside the party, because honestly, I believe that if you're going to throw a festival and you're going to invite the public to participate then you should truly allow the public to participate. If you're not, then you should actually be more honest about things and say, "We're having an Independent Film Convention in Park City. We're going to be inviting the press and lots of industry professionals to participate and we're hopeful that we'll entice them to purchase our films and distribute them. But if you'd like to come, you can purchase tickets to the screenings, too, and you might get to see a few films. We can't promise that you will actually see the films because there are so many industry folks coming who will have priority over anyone who is NOT involved directly in the film industry. And we can't allow you to attend any of the parties or festivities unless you are directly responsible for the distribution of films to a bigger and larger audience."
That would make it all more honest, in my opinion. Then, if we choose to go, at least we know what to expect. Again, I go to a lot of festivals. I also knew that Sundance had grown to something that was much bigger than what it once was, but I was still expecting it to at least feel festive.
Instead I found myself wandering Main Street looking for the "fun". Sure we wandered into the corporate lounges (when they were open to the public) and checked out Adobe's latest software products, HP's newest computers and printers, VW's fancy new cars, and Turning Leaf's wine or Stella Artois beer hall. But come on, folks. I could have done the same thing at a convention in Las Vegas. The only difference was that instead of being inside a Convention Center, I was inside a storefront that had been magically transformed into an Adobe screening room.
I wondered where the folks were who should have been standing in the streets urging you to go see their movie? The musicians who wanted a shot at doing a soundtrack in Hollywood, so they just set up in the street and played a free concert? The guy who didn't get his film into Sundance so instead he brought his own projector and showed it on the side of a building? Where were those folks? Those folks put Festive into Festivals. Really, they do.
But I couldn't find them. Perhaps because all the movies were sold out before we even arrived. I met so many folks who had come to Sundance without a ticket to a film at all. And were having the most difficult of times seeing even one movie. With a schedule that is showing films in a multitude of theatres and locations from 8:00 a.m. until midnight you'd think everyone would be able to see a film if they wanted to do so. Not so. Not even close.
Robert Redford says that he really wishes that the "gift lounges" would go away. We saw plenty of these, up and down Main Street, but again we were not allowed to enter because they were invitation only. It does seem quite silly to me that LaCoste is there in a "special room" giving away golf shoes to the stars. I mean, come on. We're in Park City. And the stars need to walk out with bags full of golf shoes to tromp around in the snow? Golf shoes and blue jeans and Botox for all your festival needs.
I know I sound bitter. In truth, I am not. I honestly did have a really beautiful time at Sundance. I met incredible people. I saw some amazing films. I feel lucky and blessed that I got to go. I have wished to spend my birthday at Sundance for years. I just think that if they're going to call themselves the Sundance Film Festival then they really should Focus on Film like the multitude of buttons proclaimed that they passed out this year.
I'm just not sure that Hollywood will let them.