So Sundance woke up all sweaty and hungover a few days ago and apparently decided it was time to change its ways. The quirky Fox Searchlight acquisitions, the earnest Amerindie movies like “Sin Nombre” going nowhere slowly but self-righteously…something didn’t feel right. Was this the same festival that gave us Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino? No. No it wasn’t. It was fat and out of shape. It needed…mumblecore!
Hence, as indieWIRE reports the first major act under new festival director John Cooper is the somewhat patronizing news that Sundance is adding a new section, to be called “Next,” consisting of six to eight narratives, “selected for their innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking.” Which I thought was the whole point of the festival in the first place, but more movies are more movies. Yay!
I don’t know why, but this presumably good news just makes me irritable. First off, the article states that the in-house staffers are referring to “Next” as “<=>” in a homage to performance artist and “You and Me and Everyone We Know” filmmaker Miranda July, which is pretty twee and decidedly gross to my taste. More importantly, as the article correctly notes, this puts Sundance in competition with fests like SXSW, whose bread and butter is programming the very films Sundance stupidly ignored in the first place. You know, the kids: Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg, “Team Picture”‘s Kentucker Audley, whatever. And I’m not even saying SXSW is that great — frankly, they program a lot of garbage — but at least they’ve evolved and kept up with changing trends in American independent filmmaking. (It’s an absolute embarrassment, by the way, that two of the best American films of the last few years — Jeff Nichols’ “Shotgun Stories” and Bujalski’s “Beeswax” — had to go all the way to Berlin to premiere.)
So what’s this mean? As Cooper admits in a later interview with indieWIRE, “It hurts a little when you are not supporting some real vitality within our community,” recognizing that the festival is behind the times. But they’re going to penalize and ghettoize filmmakers with no marketing team and few technical resources by putting them on display in the Special Ed division? Because that’s what this feels like. What Sundance doesn’t need is a “special” division: it needs to integrate its competition and place everyone on the same playing field. What’s so hard about this?
[Photo: “Mutual Appreciation,” Goodbye Cruel Releasing, 2006]