Monday, January 31, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Sundance On The Mend?

Peter Knegt, who writes the The Lost Boy blog over at indieWIRE, posted a series of videos from the awards ceremony at the Sundance Film Festival, which wrapped this weekend. A running commentary on the winners, as they were announced, can be found over here at the festival's own blog. The festival has attracted some criticism in recent years for losing sight of its independent roots, if not its original mission. According to Sundance, the festival was founded "by Robert Redford in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, Sundance Institute has always provided a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures."

The festival's adherence to that mission is dubious at best, certainly for the last decade. The festival has become less about the independent storyteller than the business of promoting one. The festival has enjoyed unparalled coverage and benefits, commercially, from a boisterous marketing machine. That change has clearly affected which films are accepted each year. (Watch Roundtable Pictures for more on this soon.)

However, some people are convince the festival is returning to its roots. Ty Burr at the Boston Globe writes today, "If the Sundance Film Festival of 2011 is to be remembered for anything, it will be for the return of business as usual. Which, after the last few years, is pretty unusual." However, Burr attributes this to the number of films purchased this year, not only by the major studios, but other, smaller distributors. He sees this as a good sign: "The market for independent movies, in other words, seems simultaneously chastened and emboldened after several years in the doldrums. That can only be good for audiences, not to mention filmmakers, art house cinemas, and, increasingly, the new windows of cable on-demand and streaming rentals."

Burr is not alone. Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times today that the festival seems, finally, less about money than art: "What happened? Put simply, filmmakers kept on making movies, if increasingly in affordable digital, and distributors, including new faces and studio veterans, found a way to put those moving pictures in front of the audience, both on the big screen and small. As it happens, viewers have developed a taste for noncorporate cinema. And despite the hard economic times they have continued to seek out movies like “Winter’s Bone” and “The Kids Are All Right,” two Sundance breakout titles from last year that went on to find public and critical love and recently picked up a few major Oscar nods. Times are still tough, but American independent cinema turns out to be a movement defined by stubborn true belief and survival."

The Los Angeles Times agrees.

Nonetheless, one wonders if the technology that now allows filmmakers to reach new audiences, as Dargis writes, isn't already being appropriated by an industry that has already swooped in and claimed ownership of independent cinema.

-- Mike Gillis