Sundance Film Festival—Carnival for independent films

Sundance Film Festival takes place annually in Park City, Utah. It is an exhibition for new works from American as well as international independent filmmakers. Since Sundance Film Festival was founded, in the nearly 40 years, it is gradually grown into one of the most influential film festivals in America. Since Sundance is presented in January, it also could be seen as a barometer of film market throughout the year. The prominent films in Sundance are always competitive for The Golden Globes and Oscar Award. Furthermore, many of the significant independent filmmakers including Alexandre Rockwell, David O. Russell and Quentin Tarantino came from Sundance. Young independent filmmakers are encouraged to break the pattern of mainstream Hollywood film and develop personal style. In American as well as global film market, to some degree, Sundance owns the power which could even compete with Hollywood. It mainly derives from its relatively large degree of autonomy in film selection, cultivation of taste and rational usage of capitals.

De Valck( 2016) works with Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital and habitus to shed light on the research of film festival. She points out that restricted or small-scale production has a relatively large degree of autonomy, while for the large-scale production, since the mass and general audience is targeted, profitability of the product outweighs aesthetic considerations. In this respect, although Sundance Film Festival is in the context of American film industry, as a film festival which aims at scouting young independent filmmaker, it owns relatively large degree of autonomy in film selection. Furthermore, “The festival-as-exhibition-site differs from commercial theaters in its appreciation for artistic achievement; films are not screened as a part of a business undertaking, but because they are considered important or worthy to be shown”( pp. 107).  The screening of Sundance serves a cultural purpose, rather than a economic one. It further relates to the taste cultivation of Sundance.

As it is argued by De Valck, film festivals not only offer cultural consecration but also sustain the system of cultural legitimization. On one hand, film festivals could produce filmmakers that make films especially for the festival circuit. On the other hand, they cultivates the audiences that are capable of consuming these films. Return to the discussion about Sundance, every year, hundreds of independent filmmakers attempt to make films which meet the aesthetic standards of Sundance. Meanwhile, cinephiles choose films according to the screening list of Sundance. There is no doubt that Sundance acts as a significant tastemaker in the global film industry.

Although Sundance focuses on independent films, many film producers and distributors from Hollywood system attend it and attempt to get the distribution rights of the popular works. Furthermore, since 80’s, the film studio of Sundance could provide financial and technical support for independent filmmakers. These capitals come from Hollywood( Turan, 2002). In this respect, except for the symbolic capital, economic capital also plays a vital role in Sundance. From the perspective of independent filmmakers, Sundance could bring cultural recognition and reputation to their works and themselves. They may also get the opportunity to touch the mainstream film market. For Sundance, exporting popular films and supplying young filmmakers step up its engagement in film industry.





De Valck, M( 2016).  Film Festivals: History, theory, method, practice. NY: Routledge.

Turan, K( 2002). Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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