Sundance Film Festival


The Sundance Film Festival (formerly Utah/US Film Festival, then US Film and Video Festival) is an annual
film festival A film festival is an organized, extended presentation of film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of ...

film festival
organized by the
Sundance Institute Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford committed to the growth of independent artists. The institute is driven by its programs that discover and support independent filmmakers, theatre artists and composers f ...
. It is the largest
independent film An independent film, independent movie, indie film, or indie movie is a feature film A feature film, or feature-length film, is a narrative film (motion picture or "movie") with a running time long enough to be considered the principal or sole ...
festival in the United States, with more than 46,660 attending in 2016. It takes place each January in
Park City, Utah Park City is a city in Summit County, Utah Utah ( , ) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper) ...
Salt Lake City, Utah Salt Lake City (often shortened to Salt Lake and abbreviated as SLC) is the Capital (political), capital and List of cities and towns in Utah, most populous city of the U.S. state of Utah, as well as the county seat, seat of Salt Lake County, Ut ...

Salt Lake City, Utah
; and at the
Sundance Resort Sundance Resort, also known as Sundance Mountain Resort, is a ski resort located northeast of Provo, Utah. It spans over on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Range. Alpine skiing began on the site in 1944. Actor Robert Redford acqu ...
(a ski resort near
Provo, Utah Provo ( ) is the List of cities and towns in Utah, fourth-largest city in Utah, United States. It is south of Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front. Provo is the largest city and county seat of Utah County, Utah, Utah County and is home to Brig ...

Provo, Utah
), and acts as a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. The festival consists of competitive sections for American and international dramatic and documentary films, both feature films and short films, and a group of out-of-competition sections, including NEXT, New Frontier, Spotlight, Midnight, Sundance Kids, From the Collection, Premieres, and Documentary Premieres.


1978: Utah/US Film Festival

Sundance began in
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City (often shortened to Salt Lake and abbreviated as SLC) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or ca ...

Salt Lake City
in August 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival in an effort to attract more filmmakers to Utah. It was founded by
Sterling Van Wagenen Sterling Gray Van Wagenen (born in Utah, United States, July 2, 1947) is an American film and stage producer, writer, director, and convicted sex offender A sex offender (sexual offender, sex abuser, or sexual abuser) is a person who has committ ...
, head of
Robert Redford Charles Robert Redford Jr. (born August 18, 1936) is an American actor, director, and activist. He is the List of awards and nominations received by Robert Redford, recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Awards, Academy Award from ...

Robert Redford
's company Wildwood, and John Earle of the
Utah Film Commission :''Not to be mistaken with the Council House (Salt Lake City), Council House, a building of similar purpose and design in Salt Lake City.'' The Salt Lake City Council Hall is currently home to offices of the Utah Office of Tourism and the Utah Fi ...
. The 1978 festival featured films such as ''
Deliverance ''Deliverance'' is a 1972 American survival Survival, or the act of surviving, is the propensity of something to continue existing, particularly when this is done despite conditions that might kill or destroy it. The concept can be applied to ...

'', ''
A Streetcar Named Desire ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' is a play written by Tennessee Williams that was first performed on Broadway on December 3, 1947. The play dramatizes the experiences of Blanche DuBois, a former Southern belle who, after encountering a series ...
'', ''
Midnight Cowboy ''Midnight Cowboy'' is a 1969 American Buddy film, buddy drama (film and television), drama film, based on the 1965 Midnight Cowboy (novel), novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The film was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schles ...

Midnight Cowboy
'', ''
Mean Streets ''Mean Streets'' is a 1973 American crime film Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detecti ...
'', and ''
Sweet Smell of Success ''Sweet Smell of Success'' is a 1957 American film noir drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on ...
''. The goal of the festival was to showcase American-made films, highlight the potential of independent film, and increase visibility for filmmaking in Utah. The main focus of the event was to conduct a competition for independent American films, present a series of retrospective films and filmmaker panel discussions, and celebrate the
Frank Capra Frank Russell Capra (born Francesco Rosario Capra; May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s ...

Frank Capra
Award. The festival also highlighted the work of regional filmmakers who worked outside the
Hollywood Hollywood is a neighborhood A neighbourhood (British English, Hiberno-English, Hibernian English, Australian English and Canadian English) or neighborhood (American English; American and British English spelling differences, see spelling ...

system. In 1979, Sterling Van Wagenen left to head up the first-year pilot program of what became the
Sundance Institute Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford committed to the growth of independent artists. The institute is driven by its programs that discover and support independent filmmakers, theatre artists and composers f ...
, and James W. Ure took over briefly as executive director, followed by Cirina Hampton Catania. More than 60 films were screened at the festival that year, and panels featured many well-known Hollywood filmmakers. Also that year, the first Frank Capra Award went to
Jimmy Stewart James Maitland "Jimmy" Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was an American actor. Known for his distinctive drawl and everyman screen persona, Stewart's film career spanned 80 films from 1935 to 1991. With the strong morality he portrayed b ...

Jimmy Stewart
. The festival also made a profit for the first time. In 1980, Catania left to pursue a production career in Hollywood.

1981: US Film and Video Festival

In 1981, the festival moved to Park City, Utah, and changed the dates from September to January. The move from late summer to midwinter was done by the executive director Susan Barrell with the cooperation of Hollywood director
Sydney Pollack Sydney Irwin Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer and actor. Pollack directed more than 20 films and 10 television shows, acted in over 30 movies or shows and produced over 44 films. For his film ''Out o ...

Sydney Pollack
, who suggested that running a film festival in a ski resort during winter would draw more attention from Hollywood. It was called the US Film and Video Festival.

1984: Sundance

In 1984, the now well-established Sundance Institute, headed by Sterling Van Wagenen, took over management of the US Film Festival. Gary Beer and Van Wagenen spearheaded production of the inaugural US Film Festival presented by Sundance Institute (1985), which included Program Director Tony Safford and Administrative Director Jenny Walz Selby. The branding and marketing transition from the US Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival was managed under the direction of Colleen Allen, Allen Advertising Inc., by appointment of Robert Redford. In 1991, the festival was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival, after Redford's character
the Sundance Kid Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (1867 – November 7, 1908), better known as the Sundance Kid, was an outlaw and member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch in the American Old West. He likely met Butch Cassidy (real name Robert Leroy Parker) after Cassidy was ...
from the film ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid''. The Sundance Film Festival experienced its extraordinary growth in the 1990s, under the leadership of Geoffrey Gilmore and John Cooper, who transformed the venue into the premier festival in the United States, on par of Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Toronto International Film Festival. That crucial era is very well documented in Professor Emanuel Levy's book, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Cinema (NYU Press, 1999, 2001, 2011), the most comprehensive chronicle of Sundance and the Indie movement over the past four decades.

Spin-offs in other locations

Sundance London (2012– )

UK-based publisher C21 Media first revealed in October 2010 that Robert Redford was planning to bring the Sundance Film Festival to London, and in March the following year, Redford officially announced that Sundance London would be held at The O2, in London from 26 to 29 April 2012; the first time it has traveled outside the United States, US. In a press statement, Redford said, "We are excited to partner with Anschutz Entertainment Group, AEG Europe to bring a particular slice of American culture to life in the inspired setting of The O2, and in this city of such rich cultural history. [...] It is our mutual goal to bring to the UK, the very best in current American independent cinema, to introduce the artists responsible for it, and in essence, help build a picture of our country that is broadly reflective of the diversity of voices not always seen in our cultural exports." The majority of the film screenings, including the festival's premieres, would be held within the Cineworld cinema at The O2 entertainment district. The 2013 Sundance London Festival was held 25–28 April 2013, and sponsored by car-maker Jaguar Cars, Jaguar. Sundance London 2014 took place on 25–27 April 2014 at the O2 arena; however the 2015 Festival was cancelled in an announcement on 16 January 2015. Sundance London returned to London from 2–5 June 2016, and again 1–4 June 2017, both at Picturehouse Central in London's West End. The 2018 and 2019 events continued at the same venue. Films shown at the 2019 event included the controversial dark tale ''The Nightingale (2018 film), The Nightingale'', US comedy ''Corporate Animals'', Lulu Wang (filmmaker), Lulu Wang's ''The Farewell (2019 film), The Farewell'' (which won the Audience Award) and Sophie Hyde's film based on Emma Jane Unsworth's novel about female friendship, ''Animals (2019 film), Animals''. The 2020 event in London was postponed due to the Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cinema, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not rescheduled until July 2021.

Sundance Hong Kong (2014- )

Inaugurated in 2014, Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong has taken place in 2016, 2017, 2018 and from 19 September to 1 October 2019. It is held at The Metroplex in Kowloon Bay each year. The 2020 events in London and Hong Kong were postponed due to Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cinema, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and as of late 2021 has not been rescheduled.

Sundance at BAM

From 2006 through 2008, Sundance Institute collaborated with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on a special series of film screenings, performances, panel discussions, and special events bringing the institute's activities and the festival's programming to New York City.


Many notable independent filmmakers received their big break at Sundance, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Todd Field, David O. Russell, Steve James (producer), Steve James, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, James Wan, Edward Burns, and Jim Jarmusch. The festival is also responsible for bringing wider attention to such films as ''Saw (2004 film), Saw'', ''Garden State (film), Garden State'', ''Super Troopers'', ''The Blair Witch Project'', ''Spanking the Monkey'', ''Reservoir Dogs'', ''Primer (film), Primer'', ''In the Bedroom'', ''Better Luck Tomorrow'', ''Little Miss Sunshine'', ''Donnie Darko'', ''El Mariachi'', ''Moon (2009 film), Moon'', ''Clerks (1994 film), Clerks'', ''Thank You for Smoking (film), Thank You for Smoking'', ''Sex, Lies, and Videotape'', ''The Brothers McMullen'', ''500 Days of Summer'', ''Napoleon Dynamite'', ''Whiplash (2014 film), Whiplash'', and ''Boyhood (2014 film), Boyhood''. ''Three Seasons'' was the first in festival history to ever receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award, in 1999. Later films that won both awards are: ''God Grew Tired of Us'' in 2006 (documentary category), ''Quinceañera (film), Quinceañera'' in 2006 (dramatic category), ''Precious (film), Precious'' in 2009, ''Fruitvale'' (later retitled ''Fruitvale Station'') in 2013, ''Whiplash (2014 film), Whiplash'' in 2014, ''Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (film), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl'' in 2015,''The Birth of a Nation (2016 film), The Birth of a Nation'' in 2016, ''Minari (film), Minari'' in 2020, and ''CODA (2021 film), CODA'' in 2021. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, three films went on to garner eight 83rd Academy Awards, Oscar nominations. ''Manchester by the Sea (film), Manchester by the Sea'' took the lead in Sundance-supported films with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The next year, about 40 films were acquired by distributors, among them including Amazon Video, Amazon, Netflix, Lionsgate, and Universal Pictures, Universal.

Growth of the festival

The festival has changed over the decades from a low-profile venue for small-budget, independent creators from outside the Hollywood system to a media extravaganza for Hollywood celebrity actors, paparazzi, and luxury lounges set up by companies not affiliated with Sundance. Festival organizers have tried curbing these activities in recent years, beginning in 2007 with their ongoing Focus On Film campaign. The 2009 film ''Official Rejection'' documented the experience of small filmmakers trying to get into various festivals in the late 2000s, including Sundance. The film contained several arguments that Sundance had become dominated by large studios and sponsoring corporations. A contrast was made between the 1990s, in which non-famous filmmakers with tiny budget films could get distribution deals from studios like Miramax Films or New Line Cinema, (like Kevin Smith's ''Clerks''), and the 2000s, when major stars with multimillion-dollar films (like ''The Butterfly Effect'' with Ashton Kutcher) dominated the festival. Kevin Smith doubted that ''Clerks'', if made in the late 2000s, would be accepted to Sundance. Numerous small festivals sprung up around Sundance in the Park City area, including Slamdance Film Festival, Slamdance, Nodance Film Festival, Nodance, Slumdance Film Festival, Slumdance, It-dance, X-Dance, Lapdance, Tromadance, The Park City Film Music Festival, etc., though all except Slamdance are no longer held. Included in the Sundance changes made in 2010, a new programming category titled "NEXT" (often denoted simply by the characters "<=>", which mean "less is more") was introduced to showcase innovative films that are able to transcend the confines of an independent budget. Another recent addition was the Sundance Film Festival USA program, in which eight of the festival's films are shown in eight different theaters around the United States. The premiere of, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift's 2020 documentary film: ''Miss Americana'', at the opening night of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and Swift's pre-announced appearance at the festival, caused a great surge in the number of attendees, traction and media coverage, which was new to the normally reserved festival. The 44th went virtual for the first time in 2021.


* Geoff Gilmore – 1991–2009 * John Cooper (executive), John Cooper – 2009–2020 * Tabitha Jackson – 2020–Present

See also

* List of Sundance Film Festival award winners * List of Sundance Film Festival selections * Sundance Channel (United States), Sundance Channel


Further reading

* Anderson, John. ''Sundancing: Hanging Out And Listening In At America's Most Important Film Festival''. Harper Paperbacks, 2000. * Biskind, Peter. ''Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film''. Simon & Schuster, 2004. * Craig, Benjamin
Sundance - A Festival Virgin's Guide: Surviving and Thriving at America's Most Important Film Festival
Cinemagine Media Publishing, 3rd ed., 2016, . * Levy, Emanuel. Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Cinema. NYU Press, 1999, 1st ed, 2001, 2nd ed 2011,3 ed. * Smith, Lory. ''Party in a Box: The Story of the Sundance Film Festival ''. Gibbs Smith Publishers, 1999. * * *von Roon, Alexander. "Grass and dark Tunnels: Sundance is a Marketing-Tool for the US Film Industry", Berliner Zeitung 2000.
Sundance Film Festival 1985–1996

Sundance - A Festival Virgin's Guide
- full history and how to attend the festival.

External links

* {{Coord, 40, 38, 33, N, 111, 29, 42, W, display=title Sundance Film Festival, Film festivals established in 1978 Film festivals in Utah Tourist attractions in Summit County, Utah Tourist attractions in Salt Lake City Tourist attractions in Weber County, Utah 1978 establishments in Utah Annual events in Utah