I had a dream the other night about Sundance. Someone told me that the short film schedule was available on-line, so I dashed to the computer and tried to find out if our film was there. But everytime the page came up, it would disappear so quickly I could not get an answer. Were we rejected or accepted? I kept trying and trying without any luck while others around me were finding out if they were in or not. At one point I thought I saw our film’s title on the site, but it was so quick I wasn’t sure.
I woke up frustrated and unsure if there was some sort of sign in that dream. Of course, it doesn’t take a psychology degree to figure out what the dream meant or why it showed up. What is more frustrating is the way Sundance has become such an important gateway to a film’s success. I have decided that the people at Sundance are not totally to blame, really, for all the growth and hype that has come with their success. It’s more a byproduct of the film industry and their desire for one-stop shopping. Sundance is to studio executives as K-Mart is to a family of four. Why fly all around the world, searching for new talent and films, when you can go to Park City and fill your cart with all the latest young moviemakers, each with their own charming story of how they funded their film with three subway tokens and a bag of recycled cans?
I’ve gone to Park City twice during the festival, once when my film played at their rival, Slamdance, and once to support my friend who had a film there. Some of the films have been excellent and others have been terrible, proof that Sundance is just like any other film festival, subject to the tastes of their judges and programmers. But somewhere along the line, probably in the era between “Clerks” and “Blair Witch,” Sundance became SO IMPORTANT to filmmakers and executives alike. Many times I have heard filmmakers say they are “making a film for Sundance.” The notion that someone would make a film for a particular festival is a bizarre idea to me. Nevertheless, when September rolled around, yours truly was racing to get the latest short film done in time for the deadline. It’s almost a Pavlov-ian effect. (“The deadline is tomorrow? Maybe there’s a videotape in my closet I can turn in.”) Though the festival has yet to show me any love (they have rejected two of my films), I have seen just how much the Sundance Seal of Validation can help my peers gain exposure and more important, help in getting the first feature off the ground. Despite the preposterous idea that one festival is more important than virtually all others in America, you can’t help but send in a film. It’s like the lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play.
But do you really win?
That’s a whole other conversation. But I will say that as the years have gone by I have realized that winning is not an award or some major seven figure sale of your four figure movie. (Though that would be nice). Making films is so damn tough that anybody who can get a few features off the ground, to the point that they have a decent “body of work”, is a winner to me. And that involves a lot more than the approval of Sundance or Toronto or Cannes or any other festival: passion, dedication, hard work, creativity, vision, determination, luck and more. What we call “heart,” I suppose.
So I write this to myself and all you other filmmakers out there: Don’t let a “no” from Sundance break your “heart.” There are many roads to a successful film career and not all of them go through Park City.