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FDL Movie Night: Journey to Sundance

We have featured many films here which have shown at Sundance. What actually goes on there, and how did the Sundance Film Festival begin and then morph into a mega-mall of moviemaking? Julian Starks’ documentary Journey to Sundance takes a wry look at the film festival, independent filmmaking and what “independent” actually means, at least to the people involved in various types of independent filmmaking.

In 2004, Julian and his friends set off in an RV to discover Sundance and hopefully be discovered. Things don’t work out as they planned. They score some great interviews and learn about the good, the bad and the ugly of indie filmmaking: Partisan agendas; the corporatization/co-opting of Sundance, where films with celebrity names and suites full of give can eclipse small, sincere and important films; the disenfranchisement of the uber-indie that gave birth to Slamdance and for-free-entrepreneurs like the guy showing films on the back of a rented truck, driving from parking place-to-place during the film fest. Then there’s the kid who funded his movie with his dead father’s Agent Orange settlement money; the indie filmmaking guru who says to just get dentists to fund your indie film; the team who made a musical version of Deliverance…

Along with being at the mercy of the Fest Powers That Beat at times, over a five year period and three trips to Park City, Julian and his friends struggle with the concept of the film itself, with each other, with finances. Their documentary is rejected by Sundance but accepted at another festival. Ask Julian how that turned out.

As the plucky band of adventurers –the film is framed in part around Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey, with pop culture hat tips to Survivor and Big Brother— traverse “Hollywood with Snow,” they give us a look at one of the most classic themes: Man’s creation expands beyond his control. Begun as simple idyllic festival which would showcase “regional films,” Sundance hit the map after indies Sex, Lies and Videotape, Good Will Hunting and Reservoir Dogs became hits. Toss in Kevin Smith and there’s a tsunami growing… Then came The Blair Witch Project; made for just under $35,000 (the film grossed over $248,000,000 world wide), the film created an explosion in ultra-indies, horror flicks and viral marketing. But has Sundance gotten out of control?

Is Sundance still still a viable place to showcase indies? Have indies been co-opted by their auteurs’ eyes focusing on the prize of a mega-distribution deal? Julian –himself a working director– shares his views and insight after half a decade on his Journey to Sundance.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.