Friends, check out this Indiewire article about the hype surrounding the Sundance Film Festival. Yes, films tend to het “hyped” at Sundance. I think I remember reading a Roger Ebert review a few years back wherein he put a Sundance caveat of sorts into the review. In essence he said that Sundance audiences tend to like the movies they see there a little bit more than they should, because they are caught up in the experience of it all.
I can attest to this. The whole experience, the journey from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, the drive up into the snow, the beauty of the mountains and biting cold, the chance to put on your winter jacket and hear the crunch of the ice under your shoes, the navigation of the bus system in Park City, acquiring the tickets via waitlist numbers and standing in line hoping you get in…. All this culminates in the screening, the room buzzing with other excited filmgoers, and the chance to meet the filmmakers in person, to ask them questions, hear the story about their blood, sweat and tears in the making of the movie. The whole experience creates a kind of bond, with your fellow festival−goers and with the filmmakers THROUGH the film.
Of COURSE this experience will be far more rich than simply viewing the film months later from my couch after scrolling through a bunch of titles on Netflix and halfheartedly settling on the title that has the best graphics. This really gets to the heart of what cinema IS. Is it, as it undoubtedly functions for many people, an escape for an hour and a half for a time or relaxing after work, in which case one movie might as well be another, or is it a chance to engage with your fellow humans over the big questions in life, to reflect on reality, humanity, character, who we are and where we are going? If it is the latter, then wouldn’t it make sense to experience this in community? If COURSE you are going to love a film you see at Sundance more than if you see it at home. By participating in the festival, you join a community, the filmmakers become your friends, and you join the story. When you experience it in a vacuum, you are, in fact, missing out.
Back when I was a twenty−five year old adjunct professor for a couple of film departments at schools in Southern California, I would always advocate for a film festival for student films at the end of the term, rather than some kind of an awards ceremony. I was almost always voted down, and students would dress up like it was the Academy Awards, roll out a red carpet and receive their School’s version of the Oscar. But nobody actually watched the films. The students could put a little marble “cube” (in our case) on their bookshelf right next to the master copy of their short film. I always thought the memory of a packed community screening followed by interaction with the audience over the film would have been a far more rewarding and lasting memory. Industry−wide, I see the awards ethos and the festival ethos somewhat at odds. They are two different definitions of success, and two different ways of celebrating the incredible art that film represents.
I hope to see you at Sundance someday, and we can learn to love the hype.