Why do we go to the movies? This is a question I have been pondering over the last week as both myself and Justin settle back from what has now become an annual trip to the Sundance Film Festival – seeing 18 films in 4 days. I know. It sounds exhausting. It is. To sit and watch movie after movie after movie is hard work. But before you scream foul, let’s consider the real question – “Why?” Why immerse yourself into what is seemingly an over-hyped, celebrity infused, celebration of entertainment (other than getting our pictures with Chris Rock and Ty Burell of course)?
Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s because it’s not about entertainment.
Sure, this is not the case for all movies. Anything being released from the Big 6 (studios) is ultimately banking on you buying an experience in “entertainment”. But for a significant portion of the independent filmmakers that find themselves at festivals such as Sundance, it’s about something else. And it better be, as out of the 10,000+ films submitted and the 114 films that make it into the festival each year, less than half get acquired for distribution (45 films in 2011). Actually, the percentage of films being sold has historically been more like 10% (14 in 2010). All this to say, if filmmakers are creating films with the hopes that they get bought, they are better off playing their local lottery.
Fortunately, this is not the drive for most. Filmmakers are artists. They are ultimately about expression. Expression of an idea and form. An idea that happens to get disseminated through a visual medium such as film. An idea that’s tethered to a passion. And whatever the angst, in a space such as Sundance, the ideas emerge via story form. Stories about social change. Stories about life’s complexities. Stories about relationships. Stories about what could be.
19 films in three and a half days. This was the experience both Justin Ahrens and I (alongside our friend Eric) had at the Sundance Film Festival this past week. And if you’re curious what it takes to get 19 films in within this amount of time, let me put it this way. At 2 a.m. Sunday evening/Monday morning we were still in the Q & A session with Pfife of A Tribe Called Quest (“Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of Tribe Called Quest”) and at 6:20 a.m. the same morning, we are in standing in line for “My Idiot Brother.”
This was my fourth trip to the festival in the last five years and continue to return home with the same reflection/realization… Ironically, the festival is not about seeing movies. It’s about the conversation, about what is being “said.” There is no doubt that the festival’s leadership team views their role as somewhat of a cultural guide – point viewers to “stories worth discussing.” In fact, this was the sentiment after (almost) every film. Someone in the audience would ask the director something like, “So, what’s your position on environmental terrorism?” And the director would respond… “Well, we simply want to have a conversation regarding. This is why we made the film.”
So, what’s in store for this year’s cultural conversation? Here are a few films we saw worth discussing… Read the rest of the entry >