The Merits of Story

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For over three decades, Sundance Film Festival has helped new filmmakers tell the stories they want to tell. With another stunning lineup in 2015, they’re keeping the tradition alive.

Celebrity sightings, exceptional food and drink, twinkling lights, crisp weather and world-class entertainment all set against the beautiful back drop of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains. Every year, the Sundance Film Festival brings a sense of glamour to the wintery peaks of Park City, Utah. However, the Festival is more than Hollywood super stars and A-list parties. As one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States, Sundance is a showcase for groundbreaking new work in the film industry.
While technology certainly offers waves of information and convenience to modern day living, it is easy to get swept away in the cyber-sea of endless data, apps, and gadgets. The constant checking-in effectually checks us out of reality and often leaves us separated and distant from genuine human experiences. Cue the filmmaking industry: a form of technology that bridges the gap between virtual consciousness and concrete awareness. This easily accessible mode of storytelling redirects our attention to humanity in a world that is becoming increasingly distant.
Sundance Institute, the organization behind the festival, was founded by Robert Redford as a place to provoke new and inspiring work in the industry—and it’s done just that.
“Among the elements we look for when we select films for our Festival are strength of vision, innovation in technique and merit of storytelling,” says Trevor Goth, Sundance Film Festival’s Director of Programming.
From its beginnings in 1981, the Institute has created a community for independent filmmakers to better their work and—along with the Festival—provide an opportunity to showcase their final projects.
The independent films being screened at Sundance are different from big box office films playing in multi-megaplex theaters that report their ticket sales in the daily news. Those Hollywood productions are intended to thrill audiences with special effects and happy endings—they are geared to entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with entertainment. But what is so unique and beautiful about independent films is the honest nature of the stories being told.
“Independent film is important because we need diverse perspectives to understand and learn from each other and introduce us to new ways of thinking,” says Goth. “Some of the most groundbreaking cinematic work comes out of the independent film space because filmmakers can stay true to their story.”
These films delve into a truthful place that reflects the reality of the world. Although truthfulness is sometimes painful, not always pretty, and often leaves loose ends flying everywhere, there is a certain sense of beauty that comes from such an honest place. It’s that beauty which is at the forefront of the stories being told through independent film. It’s not to say, though, that box office feature films and independent films are mutually exclusive. In fact, many well-known directors, actors and household favorites got their start at Sundance. The Coen Brothers’ award winning debut film “Blood Sisters,” Jerry Rees’ superstar short film “The Brave Little Toaster,” Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s “The Blair Witch Project,” Jared Hess’s “Napolean Dynamite,” and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” are only a few of the worldwide successes born at Sundance.
As the director of programming, Goth says he is “pleased when filmmakers find their target audience at the Festival.” He goes on to describe the Festival as “a platform to connect artists with audiences.” When a film is selected to be showcased in the Festival, it has an immense impact on the director’s career. It often provides a jumping off point for artists to showcase their current project, or a platform to continue creating new ones.
When the final reel rolls, audiences leave the theater with a feeling burning deep in their gut—and not from the extra large popcorn and Slurpee they just devoured. Maybe it’s happy, maybe sad, or even moving and inspirational. This is the recognition of honesty in a story, and it is this “merit of storytelling” that the Sundance Institute strives to cultivate in the films they select.
“We see that these artists at the Festival are collaborative and supportive of each other, which we believe fuels continued creativity and sustainability in the industry,” Goth remarks on the inspiring atmosphere cultivated by Sundance.
Whether it’s a groundbreaking film putting a face on the AIDS crisis like Norman Rene’s “Longtime Companion” did in 1990, or a panel discussion of women in the field of directing, art and politics in later years, the mission of Sundance to foster independence is certainly not lost as year after year, filmmakers bring their own unique perspective on relevant subjects to the drawing board.
From documentaries examining the failing public education system and society’s narrow definition of masculinity to feature films stepping inside the life of a young gay activist who rejects his homosexuality for his beliefs are just a few of the ideas expressed through film that audiences can prepare to experience at Sundance’s 2015 festival. It’s a lineup that’s nothing short of spectacular. These and the many other films featured at the festival—as well as those from years passed—give the faces and a stories to relevant topics in the cultural zeitgeist.
The Sundance Film Festival certainly brings a flash of excitement to the cold winter months in Utah. While the state is proud to host celebrities and filmmakers from around the world, as well as the thousands of fans who follow to join in on the fun, there’s something greater and more important happening. More importantly than the brief population boost, it’s an honor to host this festival of storytelling that helps opens the doors for discussion and brings people to an understanding that might be different from their own.
For information about tickets, a complete listing of films showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, or to donate to the non-profit Sundance Institute, please visit www.sundance.org.

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