Author: Kara McVey
The Sundance Film Festival has been a major platform for independent film for more than three decades. Founded by Robert Redford in 1978, the festival has a long history of introducing the industry to rising filmmakers, lesser known actors and screenwriters and great indie films. This year’s Sundance ran from Jan. 20 to Jan. 30 in Park City, UT, and legions of stars flocked to the city for the event.
This year marks the 27th festival, and program coordinators chose a total of 118 films for screening. These films represent the pinnacle of independent cinema, and many will likely run the awards circuit throughout the rest of 2011.
Though independent films rarely achieve wide-release or big box office numbers, Sundance favorites are often plucked up and subsequently distributed by big production companies. The festival premiered indie hit “The Kids Are Alright” last year, and a few films from this year have already gained interest from Hollywood.
Paramount and Indian Paintbrush, a smaller production company that has produced films like “The Darjeeling Limited,” recently shelled out four million for “Like Crazy,” a trans-Atlantic romance-drama starring Felicity Jones (“The Tempest”) and Anton Yelchin (“Charlie Bartlett”). The Sundance panel awarded the film its Grand Jury Prize for Drama, one of the festival’s most prestigious awards.
Other films have also garnered substantial attention. “Homework,” from new filmmaker Gavin Wiesen, starring Freddie Highmore (“Willy Wonka”) and Emma Roberts (“Nancy Drew”), has received mixed reviews so far. Given its high-profile cast, which also includes Alicia Silverstone, Rita Wilson and Blair Underwood, it is no wonder that the teenage rom-com has been the subject of a disproportionate amount of media buzz compared to other films screened at the festival.
Another media favorite is “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” starring Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, until now, was probably best known as Mary-Kate and Ashley’s kid sister, but critics have lauded her performance in the difficult role. The thriller-drama casts Olsen as a young woman trying to untangle herself from a cult and pick up the pieces of her fractured past. It has received high acclaim from the critics, and on Jan. 24, only half-way through the festival, it was bought by Fox Searchlight.
While many of the feature films have gained recognition, documentaries continue to be a particular interest at Sundance. The film “Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times” has been singled out for its unique inside look into the current world of journalism.
Another project premiering at Sundance is “Life in a Day.” The film is the culmination of an ambitious undertaking from producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin Macdonald, who worked in concert with YouTube to capture true stories from all over the world. Tens of thousands of people from hundreds of different countries submitted video clips of their experiences on July 24 of last summer. The filmmakers whittled down over 4,500 hours of video to a 90-minute piece. The experiment has been applauded for its expansive and groundbreaking study of human life.
While “Like Crazy” took home Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for Drama, the festival awarded its Grand Jury Prize for Documentary to “How to Die in Oregon,” directed by Peter D. Richardson. The film explores the effect of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act and was created for HBO Documentary Films. The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary went to “Hell and Back Again,” a film that follows the experience of a marine in Afghanistan and his life returning home. Norway’s “Happy, Happy,” the story of a neglected housewife’s extramarital affair and its aftermath, won the World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic.
These films represent just a few of the Sundance favorites that will likely make their way to theaters throughout the U.S. Other films, such as the many competitors from abroad, may have a more difficult trek to the cinemas. But, as always, this year’s festival proved that, despite the difficult economy, the independent film industry is still thriving.
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