My dislike for Sundance has nothing to do with the original message of Sundance. I genuinely think Robert (Redford) had a great idea. The original concept is beautiful and very valuable, celebrating filmmakers of all sorts. But in recent years it’s distorted beyond recognition. Sundance is now a gargantuan disease infecting the world and it’s time to confront it. We can no longer be in denial.
The first cases were diagnosed in Los Angeles, leading the CDC to theorize that neither Robert (Redford) nor Park City, Utah, was the source of The Disease. I interviewed a Studio Executive suffering from The Disease. Said individual stated, “You are nothing unless your film is shown at Sundance. If you aren’t at Sundance, you must not be a real filmmaker.” All other research indicates that most films “accepted” into Sundance have, in one way or another, been financed, produced, or planned by a company in The Industry.
What happens to the real independent film? What happens if one doesn’t surrender? The same thing that happens to people in our culture that don’t fit the mold! They are exiled! They are called freaks! Which reminds me of the scene in FREAKS: “One of US! One of US!”
Have you been in contact with The Sundance Disease? How would you know? Here are signs to look for. Common symptoms include: Confusion and general disorientation characterized by a preference for freezing temperatures, deep snow and high altitude instead of warm waters, white beaches and the mild climate of Cannes in May; Preoccupation with Sundance participation on the part of the inexperienced public who have no knowledge of important festivals such as Berlin, Toronto or SXSW; Industry Wannabes who insist that missing Sundance dooms a film to second class status.
A secondary infection of The Disease is the marginalization of all the other festivals. It makes all the other organizations less important: “Oh, you got into Cannes – too bad you weren’t ‘accepted’ into Sundance!”
Slamdance started with good intentions and challenged the bureaucracy of Sundance. Now, Slamdance has developed symptoms of The Disease. And, if we aren’t careful, it will spread to Slamdunk and all the other Dances. Remember what happened to LapDance!? At this rate of infection, we’ll be looking at TromaDance to predict the 2006 Oscar nominees. We’ll have forgotten all about the Independent Spirit Awards.
The Disease is as contagious as SARS. And, like SARS, there is currently no known cure. But if all independent filmmakers fight together, we can stop it from killing us.
Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004