Do You Need Connections to Get Into Sundance? These Filmmakers Proved That You Don't

With Sundance 2015 fast approaching, it's worth taking some time to listen to filmmakers who've been there before.

Writer/Director Diane Bell & Producer Chris Byrne took their 2010 film Obselidia to Sundance, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan award and the cinematography award, and was nominated for a Grand Jury prize (it was also nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards). Even though they didn't have any personal connections to the festival, and the movie was submitted on the last possible day, their film was still accepted out of thousands of submissions. Just because their film won awards, however, did not mean that they were automatically given a distribution deal.

First, here's the trailer for Obelidia (you can purchase from here):

From this terrific Film Courage interview, here is a great clip with the filmmakers where they describe their experience with the festival:

One of the biggest takeaways from this particular clip is that it's far better to make the film that is true to yourself and one that you will love. If you're making a film to impress programmers, it's likely that you're going to compromise your own vision. Programmers and festivals are always looking for original voices and stories told in an original way, and if you're trying to pander to them, they are going to be turned off by that. If you stick to your original vision, and you're making a movie that you will truly love yourself, there is going to be an audience out there for it. The more personal you make something, the more likely it's actually going to connect with people. 

Of course connections can help your chances in certain ways, and clearly programmers have certain criteria that they will consider first (has the filmmaker premiered at the festival before?), but an original vision can go a long way, and it's not impossible to get into a festival like Sundance even with the unbelievable amount of submissions they receive every year. 

But it's not enough just to make a movie and get into a festival. People still need to see it, and here the filmmakers talk about mistakes that people make when they go about trying to get their movie to an audience:

I think this is one of the most concerning things in today's film festival landscape. People get into festivals, spend an enormous amount of time and effort getting it ready for the fest, and then often don't do anything with that publicity but wait for someone to buy their movie and do all the work for them. This is why time and time again there are dozens of movies from top tier festivals that go on and don't get seen by a wider audience. Some filmmakers are bucking that trend, but there are many, many films that are too risky or too small for distributors to take a chance, and the filmmakers would likely be better off using the Sundance publicity to sell their film immediately during, or right after the fest.

For more on these filmmakers and to check out more fantastic interviews, head on over to the links below.     

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Your Comment


The second clip is so insightful, if you do your homework in making your independent film a reality, you can do the home work in distribution. Having the rights to your own film is invaluable in the long term, which is interesting because isn't that part of the reason why you are independent? Creative control. Especially with the digital age. Sure in the beginning it might not be as fruitful but with the right amount of buzz, long term, it can be worth it. I think instead of trying to shove your independently made movie into an old system, why not take the initiative and use the fact that we can do it ourselves. Not knocking the old system but some of us are already wearing more then "one hat" why not try our hands at another? Especially if the reason you want your film made is to let it be out there rather then to try and make a buck.

January 12, 2015 at 4:46PM, Edited January 12, 4:46PM

Gvickie Xiong

I don't understand why someone would down-vote your comment. I think it's a great mindset to have. I guess too many people in the industry are not still not talented and entrepreneurial on their own and have to rely on the crutch of "other people" and "connections" to elevate them above others... shame.

January 13, 2015 at 3:50PM