November 30, 2012

Sundance Announces More 'Accessible' 2013 Lineup, Festival Director Answers Your Questions in Reddit AMA

The Sundance Institute recently announced the 2013 festival lineup, complete with shorts and features from the far-end of challenging and experimental work, all the way to more mainstream-oriented pieces featuring a number of Hollywood regulars. For the first time ever, the festival received over 12,000 submissions -- with 4,044 of those being feature film or documentary submissions, which outdoes last year's total by only 2 (whereas 2012 saw an increase of 6% from 2011). This isn't the only unique or buzz-worthy news about the upcoming festival, however.

Of note: eight of the sixteen domestic drama films in competition were directed by women, another first for the festival. There also seems to be a quite a stir around the idea that Sundance may be becoming more commercial (courtesy the NYTimes's Carpetbagger blog):

[The] selections are packed with familiar movie and TV stars. Jessica Biel, Daniel Radcliffe, Rooney Mara, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Casey Affleck, Kristen Bell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ellen Page and Octavia Spencer (among others) all perform in competition films... [Sundance staff] cautioned against scrutinizing their lineup too carefully for trends, noting that they are at mercy of what gets submitted. And “accessible” is a relative concept, they noted; these selections are aimed squarely at an art house crowd and not a broad multiplex audience.

[Additionally,] the rise of video on demand, both on television and online, has provided additional exposure for the films and made stars more willing to participate. At the same time filmmakers have adapted by embracing stories that are more palatable — more clearly defined stories, lighter topics — to a V.O.D. audience... “Sundance seems to have smartly focused more intently on programming not only for artistic quality but also for consumer accessibility,” said Kevin Iwashina, managing partner of Preferred Content, a movie production, sales and advisory company. “That in turn guarantees that the festival will impact culture beyond its 10-day run.”

So it may be difficult to say where all the accessibility is coming from -- it may be part of a glacial shift in a generation filmmakers, or a move on the part of festival programmers, or, more likely, a blend of both -- the goals of the filmmaking and film festival worlds have inevitable interplay, after all. Interestingly, festival director John Cooper recently offered Reddit users the chance to pick his brain Ask-Me-Anything style, offering some nice insights behind the scenes of a major indepedent film festival. On the above-mentioned topic of new modes of distribution:

tinytooraph: The Internet and other direct-to-consumer technology is obviously presenting some challenges to the "traditional" model of film distribution. What do you think the future of film distribution will be? And more specific to you: What role do you see film festivals playing in this future?

John Cooper [SundanceFest]: I don't think it's a challenge for filmmakers, I think it's a solution. The more opportunities for them, the better. I believe there are audiences for all our films out there.
Festivals? Our role is to find those films.

Over the course of the AMA, Mr. Cooper confirms that Robert Redford still spiritually guides the festival, admits to rejected entries that went on to become hits, commented on the lack of feedback in rejection letters, and explains what the spread of inexpensive digital technologies has done for the streams of incoming submissions, among many other things. If festival considerations like these and others like it are of interest to you, I recommend checking out the full AMA.

What do you guys think of all this 'mainstream' and 'accessible' business? Do you think this results from a natural ebb-and-flow of style in contemporary filmmaking, or more reflects Sundance's evolving selectivity? With the nature of filmmaking changing (in parallel, though, with VOD services), do you think Sundance's submission numbers will increase and decrease as time goes on? And what about the Reddit thread, was anything brought up of particular interest to you?


Your Comment


What - no comments? Guess there are no other Sundance rejectees here... Anyway, I know a lot of the hate towards Sundance has been it's supposed "commercialization". It's probably inevitable that the festival will grow a lot more mainstream, but I think they've done a good job of keeping it on track so far.

I wish I knew about the AMA - I would have asked if (in the rejection letters) we could get some indication of how far our films came, as in, how many shortlists did it hit (like a ranking of sorts). That would be a nice indicator of the overall quality of films and where they think yours stands.

December 1, 2012 at 5:23AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


There are no comments because the article is not about some new camera et al! Instead of making films with what they have many complain about what that new camera does not have or should have as if that is what will make their film better. Who amongst those camera lovers submitted a film to a festival in the last 6 months? DSlr... no Raw, BMCC... NO global shutter, crop factor, GH3... not full frame on and on and on. Spoilt br!!!!

December 1, 2012 at 6:13AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


For there to be day, there must be night. Let them obsess about their Alexas and Epics, while we make original films that get accepted at Sundance one day.

December 2, 2012 at 5:13AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The idea of Sundance going more 'mainstream' disappoints me, of course, but is it really true? I would have to actually attend the festival and watch a good cross-section of the films before I could really have an opinion. Maybe by accepting a few more mainstream films, they will be able to draw attention to some more innovative films at the same time.

By the way, I think Sundance submission numbers increased for the simple reason that it is now possible to make a film with a camera that a lot of people own and the computer in your bedroom. Everyone's a filmmaker now and the first place people think of sending their film is Sundance.

Recent Sundance Rejectee :)

December 1, 2012 at 6:39AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Yeah, Sundance is like some sort of "filmmaker's lottery". People think that they can hit the indie-big-time by being accepted and picking up an award - even though the reality is that many films that do win awards don't even get a distribution deal (or get a mediocre one at best). Alas, it's still worth the cost of entry to have the chance to start out like many of the greatest indie filmmakers around.

Entry to Sundance probably becomes a routine for many (like a national lottery), and just like a lottery, many of us bow to the reality of inevitable rejection right from the get go.

December 2, 2012 at 5:10AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


How can I participate in screen writing contest? Presently I lives in Lagos Nigeria.

Simeon A. Laizer

December 8, 2012 at 12:46AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I feel like this is a variation of a trend that repeats itself forever.

The french new wave upset the old industry, and essentially became the new industry.

And Scorsese and others did it in the 70's, going from small films into the height of the industry.

Sundance isn't that as far as a movement or whatever...but it's grown and it's inevitable for anything that starts out small and actually succeeds.

December 8, 2012 at 8:10PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Daniel Mimura