Sundance 2009: A Recap

By Mandy Boyle
Advertising Sales Manager/Entertainment Editor

With Oscar season upon us, film lovers are buzzing with activity about the best and brightest films of 2008, however, the unsung heroes of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival are just starting to sparkle.

The hype for the Sundance Festival came early this year, as critics hummed their anticipation for films like Mary & Max, an Aussie claymation film about pen pals, Irish drama Five Minutes in Heaven starring Liam Neeson, and The Office’s John Krasinski’s directorial debut in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. However, it was the underdogs that came out on top during the awards ceremony.

Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire, a drama about an overweight girl growing up Harlem, won the most prizes of the festival, yet left Park City without a distribution offer, despite the rave reviews from both critics and audiences alike. Other films that received awards included: Sin Nombre, Afghan Star, Five Minutes in Heaven, Paper Heart, An Education, and Humpday.

One of the most major distribution disappointments was that of the overly anticipated I Love You Phillip Morris, which starred Jim Carey and Ewan McGregor as two gay prison inmates who fall in love. Two other well-liked films that left empty handed were Cold Souls, a meta-drama starring Paul Giamatti and family tragedy The Greatest, which starred Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon.

Several films that came to Sundance with distribution already locked up made a splash as well, despite the lack of award. Twilight star Kristen Stewart gave a strong performance in the premiere of Adventureland, a coming-of-age tale set in the 1980’s at a second-rate amusement park. Adventureland is due to hit theaters March 27. However, it was romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer that seemed to make the biggest impression on audiences, complete with a standing ovation during its debut screening. Look for it in theatres on July 24.

“Sundance to me has always been a land of milk and honey,” said the film’s lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an on camera interview with “To come here, and have something that I’ve done be so well received…it meant the world to me.”

While you may not have been able to make it to Park City, Utah for the festivities, a joint venture with Apple made it possible for millions to view a handful of the featured films via iTunes downloads for free – possibly the largest innovation in the festival this year.

“We are thrilled to be able to highlight a selection of short films from this year’s program free online on the iTunes Store for those who can’t make it to the Festival,” said Trevor Groth, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer in a recent interview. “The 10/10 films offer a sample of the diversity and originality of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival shorts program.”

From January 15 to January 25, iTunes offered ten hyped shorts from Sundance:

Acting for the Camera, Countertransference, HUG, Field Notes From Dimension X: Oasis, From Burger It Came, I Live In The Woods, Instead of Abracadabra, James, Magnetic Movie, and This Way Up. This bold move by both Sundance and iTunes could become a new trend in the spread of independent film to the masses.

The Sundance Film Festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, held each January in and around Park City, Utah. Presenting approximately 120 dramatic and documentary feature-length films in seven distinct categories and between 60 and 80 short films each year, the Sundance Film Festival has introduced American audiences to some of the most ground-breaking films of the past two decades. The festival is sponsored by the Sundance Institute; a not-for-profit organization that fosters “the development of original storytelling in film and theatre” and was founded by actor Robert Redford in 1981. Internationally, the institute is recognized for its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, film composers, playwrights and theatre artists.

Nine thousand films were considered for the coveted 120 spots in 2009, which marked the 25th anniversary of the festival. Roughly 1585 volunteers were celebrated for their help in keeping the machine running for ten straight days without a hitch, despite the excitement of the mid-festival inauguration of President Obama. To those who make Sundance so successful– congratulations and see you next year.