It’s a cliché I have been hearing for about 10 years now; Sundance has lost its indie edge. Sundance has sold out. It’s nothing but a paparazzi-fest laden with star vanity and schmoozing.
Although I am tired of hearing the moaning, the dissenters do have their points: Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are now are regular festival fixtures, there is a Sundance cable channel, and Ugg has actually named one of their festival-ubiquitous fluffy boots “Sundance.” Sundance-branded cinema theaters are now in the works. When asked about his feelings on the commodification of the festival, Robert Redford, the founder of and president of The Sundance Institute, of which the festival is only a part of the agenda, has stated he is “quite happy it is a market.”  He stated further that the market aspect is beneficial to filmmakers. There is a fine line between sellout and progress, and sometimes the line fades into the sunset completely.
So, the Sundance film festival has proven a success and expanded in many ways-it is difficult to make an intelligently persuasive argument faulting this so-called sellout while maintaining growth should not have taken place. For wasn’t that Redford’s intent in promoting independent filmmakers and ushering their goodness into the mainstream? It is a complex issue. That many of the films premiering at the festival need the exposure the event provides is an often argued topic. The conclusion that they may not, however, is hard to extract from the indie love that the festival has provided for in such films over the years. From this, it is easy to see there is a paradox at hand-Sundance is a victim of its own success.
In more ways than one, too. Some of the lambasting and lamentation has to do with simple nostalgia. There is undeniably a lost virtue involved. In 1992 ( or thereabouts) , a film student friend of mine showed up at my apartment door with tickets he had somehow gleaned, for a screening and directors’ discussion of a film called, I believe, Das Terrorist. The film began in just one hour –and we made it from my downtown Salt Lake City apartment to our seats in Park City with a few minutes to spare. That could never happen now; there is no informality, no real sense of true audience-based movie watching. And-there is no place to park. At least no place that would allow you to make that showing like we did.
No, it has morphed into a formal event, a showcase, a press event. In the Das Terrorist screening, in an only half-packed theatre of film patrons, nearing the film’s end, there was a discernable buzz of energetic appreciation for the movie, the fancy song choice (a Yo La Tengo rendition of Daniel Johnston’s Speedy Motorcycle) for the closing scenes, the way in which those closing scenes had been captured using a hand held camera, in short, there was appreciation for its edged artistic irreverence, from a crowd of real people, none of which were wearing big, fluffy boots. In the wonderful documentary New York Doll (which happens to be a Sundance premeired film) one of the commentators, a music critic, I believe, makes a comment about having watched the wickedly glammed-out “The New York Dolls” in their first television appearance. She describes them “like they were from Mars” — the feeling of complete rock rapture and energy that was released in the band’s new protopunk music and outrageous style-it was a euphoric injection of real art and innovation, into a seeking, and willing audience. Early Sundance screening experiences in Park City were somewhat like that.
Sundance will never recover its fun adolescent ways. Its all-night-Schafer-beer-drinking-metaphysical-rants-in-dorm-room youth have sophisticated into mortgage payments and SUVs. It is a grown up now, and shops at Pottery Barn. And although you may not be able to hang out with it, it is valuable, and still delievers. Some of the films may be studioesque, and politics may be involved in just who-gets-what-when-and-where, when determining screening times, film reviewers, language used in the reviews, and, ultimately, success or failure. A firm has even sucessfully predicted the Sundance awards based on these and other criteria. Politics aside, for every studioesque film that may not need the attention, there are perhaps dozens that do. A quick glance at the schedule will affirm that.
Sundance is not the only film festival in Park City. The lesser-known but hugely successful and lovely Slamdance Film festival also takes place in Park City, and at the same time of its gracious but gaudy Aunt Sundance. It was created with the idea of being an alternative to Sundance; its slogan is “by filmmakers for filmmakers,” and showcases a plethora of truly independent, “DIY” vain of fims. This is not to say the films are amateurish or lacking in distinction or quality, however. The popular documentary film Mad Hot Ballroom premeired at Slamdance in 2005, and was promptly purchased by Paramount.
The Slamdance Film Festival began in 1995, and now Slamdance is ringing in its 13th year this January 18th. It is looked upon as one of the premeire independent film festivals, and continues to garner notice and critical applause year after year. The official Slamdance website includes past festival information, online submission information for their ongoing short film competition, current festival information, including festival ticket packages and ticket information. Short films are also available for viewing at the website.
Sources:  indiewrire:on the scene,  deconstructingsundance.com