This week we’re obsessed with…Sundance Film Festival

Britta Hanson

In the film industry, January and February are focused almost exclusively on the long race to the Oscars. With the deafening hubbub over last year’s films, it’s a shock to realize that a new year, and a new crop of movies, is already underway.

Today marks the beginning of the first big film event of the year: Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s top forum for independent film.

Sundance was founded in the early ‘80s by a group of Hollywood insiders, including Robert Redford, the eye-candy key to ‘70s blockbusters such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Way We Were. With the help of his star-power (and the draw of a Utah ski resort), it quickly grew in size and renown.

The festival has gained a reputation for spotlighting small films of a high caliber and degree of originality. Films with almost nonexistent budgets and support have the chance to catch the attention and financial support of the industry. Napoleon Dynamite,

Little Miss Sunshine and Precious all got their Cinderella-starts here.

Sundance is also a career starter, often giving unknown directors their first big break. The Coen brothers screened their first feature film, Blood Simple, at Sundance in 1984 and Quentin Tarantino caught the world’s eye with his Sundance premiere of Reservoir Dogs in 1992.

Likewise, most recognizable documentaries from the past few years rocketed to prominence here, including Supersize Me and An Inconvenient Truth. In 2010 alone, four of the five Best Documentary Academy Award nominees were Sundance films.

But the festival has also suffered because of its growing acclaim. From a workshop with ten filmmakers in 1981, Sundance now regularly draws big names like Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones not to mention the paparazzi and other undesirable symptoms of Hollywood.

Still, Sundance has managed to maintain its own unique brand of cool. It’s hard to imagine such audience favorites as the 2009 comedy Humpday – about two straight men attempting to make gay porn – earning as much love at more sedate festivals like Cannes. Sundance is a reminder to film lovers everywhere that no matter how bleak and unforgiving the Hollywood landscape looks, there is hope yet for independent film.

-Britta Hanson