Field, Capital and Habitus of Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. It began in 1978 and was held in Park City, Utah. It is an essential platform for independent filmmakers around the world to show their works. The initial purpose of the Sundance Film Festival can be segmented into three. First one is to attract key players in the film industry to Utah, second one is to offer a retrospective program and last one is to process a competition for small local films which are marked outside the Hollywood system. The 2018 Sundance Film Festival began on 18 January and ended on 28 January. There were over 13,000 films submitted for consideration. However, it had to be sifted down to 181 films and over 71,6000 audiences came to attend the festival.

According to Bourdieu (1996), he came up with the conception of “field” and divided cultural field into two segmentations. One is restricted production and another is large-scale production. Restricted production “has a relatively large degree of autonomy” while large-scale production aims at a “mass and general audience” (ibid: 105). Film festival can be regarded as an artistic field of cultural production, in this way, film festival as an exhibition of films does not generate profit when films are screened for cultural reasons. However, as for film festivals, autonomous and heteronomous are inseparable when struggling between artistic principles which emphasizes filmmaker’s art sake and economic principles which aims to get sponsorship. Nevertheless, Sundance Film Festival is regarded as more autonomous. Throughout the history of Sundance Film Festival, it insists screening independent films on the basis of certain theme and invite new independent filmmakers, organizing own jury formed by experts to criticize the films without considering economic principles. Furthermore, Sundance Institute has stable sponsors and individual donors every year to support its artistic principles.

According to Valack (2016: 104), “film festivals bring cultural recognition to the artifact and its maker while winning an award bestows that ultimate form of prestige”. In this sense, when a film of a fresh filmmaker was selected during the competition of Sundance Film Festival, the festival reproduced and added value to the film and film critics who are defined as experts would amplify the cultural legitimization of the film. Meanwhile, the filmmaker who won the prize would win the prestige, honor and recognition. This is the symbol capital. Furthermore, symbolic capital leads to economic capital when there are more sponsors to invest the film and high box office when the film is screened in cinemas.

When Sundance Film Festival brings the prestige, honor and recognition to the careers of filmmakers, it also acts as a tastemaker and gatekeeper. Apart from being a gatekeeper to decide which film can be considered in the field of cultural production, the festival is a tastemaker forming the dispositions and contribution to the practices of audiences whose identities are cinephiles and filmmakers. In this way, the festival acts as the habits which certain sets of values are reproduced among the festival participants.


De Valac, M. (2016), Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice, NY: Routledge

Bourdieu, P. (1993), The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, Cambridge: Polity Press



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