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What is the Sundance Film Festival?

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The Sundance Film Festival is an annual film festival held every January in Park City, Utah and is the largest independent film festival in the United States. Founded by Robert Redford in 1985, the festival showcases new work from American and international independent filmmakers.

The Festival has become a platform to launch the careers of many filmmakers, actors, producers, and writers and recognize independent filmmakers’ contributions in the industry. In this section, we will explore the history and impact of the Sundance Film Festival and its current purpose.

About sundance film festival

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual independent film festival held each January in Park City, Utah. Founded in 1978 by Robert Redford, Sundance aims to advance the careers of independent filmmakers and promote diversity within the entertainment industry. This month-long event features a variety of screenings and panels, culminating in the awards ceremony where prizes are given to the outstanding films presented throughout the festival.

The celebration brings together fans, media, celebrities and industry professionals from across the globe for exclusive world premieres of independent films spanning genres including feature-length movies and short films. Whether it’s big budget blockbusters or arthouse indie releases, there’s something for everyone at Sundance. It’s also an important networking opportunity for emerging talents looking to make their mark on the industry. Talented filmmakers from around the country come together to showcase their many works in progress – perhaps even discovering their next major hit!


The line-up has something for everyone, including dramas, comedies, documentaries and shorts. Though writer-directors are heavily represented at this event, those more interested in behind-the-camera roles also have plenty of opportunities; producers (including executive producers), composers, costume designers and sound designers will all find their own space amongst this selection. In addition, every year brings brand new projects that could launch an artist’s career into superstardom or simply explore a unique perspective on oft told stories.

History of the Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual independent film festival in the United States held each January in Park City, Utah. It showcases new movies from American and international filmmakers and has become one of the world’s largest, most recognizable and respected festivals.

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The event was founded by Robert Redford in 1985 and is named after his character The Sundance Kid from the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Initially conceived as a venue to showcase independent feature films made outside Hollywood studios, over time it has evolved to include work in all genres of film, television, virtual reality and other immersive media formats.

Since its inception, Sundance has grown exponentially; it now attracts notable directors, producers and actors from around the globe. The gold standard for independent filmmaking is set high at this event as filmmakers who have made strong impressions at earlier editions of Sundance include Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) and Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List).

Today more than 60 features compete for recognition at the festival each year and representatives from major international distributors are present–seeking out potential acquisitions and buyers from digital streaming services such as Netflix that can bring even more exposure to an independently produced film.


The Sundance Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, bringing international attention to independent films from filmmakers around the globe. As such, it is highly competitive and only a few films are accepted for screening each year.

To have your film considered for the festival, filmmakers must submit it through the proper channels. Let’s take a look at the submission process for the Sundance Film Festival.

Eligibility Requirements

The Sundance Film Festival accepts film submissions from all over the world. Submissions come from filmmakers directly, through a Representative, or from a Festival programmer’s invitation. Film submissions to Sundance should generally meet the following requirements:

  • Feature film submissions must be greater than 70 minutes long, while short films must be under 40 minutes long.
  • Eligible films may have been released commercially and/or publicly screened before the Festival. Still, all films must have been completed after January 1 of the previous year of submission and after June 1 of the second previous year.
  • Films available for streaming or download in any country during their run at the Sundance Film Festival will not be eligible for competition.

Types of Submissions

Submissions to the Sundance Film Festival are accepted in feature-length narratives, documentaries, and short films. Feature films are usually over 45 minutes long, with shorts running from 15 minutes or less.

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Short films can include narrative commentaries, animated works and anything else that does not fit the other two categories.

  • Narrative Feature & Documentary Feature
  • Narrative Features are written, acted, shot and cut together as a cohesive whole – an original story told through film by a director or team of filmmakers. Submitted Narrative Features must be over 45 minutes long and contain a single-narrative story intended for theatrical exhibition. Documentary Features tell factual stories, featuring interviews with people who have participated directly or by proxy in an event being documented, as well as footage of that event. Submitted Documentary Features must be over 45 minutes long and contain a single narrative story for theatrical exhibition.
  • Short Films
  • Submissions to shorts category contains any film under 30 minutes (including credits). This category contains Narrative Shorts, documentary commentaries about ideas or issues, animations built up out of still images (e.g., claymation) or motion design using computer software such as After Effects and 3D Animation, music videos created from existing audio recordings , branded content commissioned by clients (e.g., public service announcements) etc. Your submission needs to convey an overall message strong enough to stand alone without sound design or accompanying material added later – this helps festival organizers determine which shorts have the most potential for stadium screening exposure during the Festival itself.

How to Submit a Film

At the Sundance Film Festival, filmmakers from around the world have the unique opportunity to showcase their work and to develop their careers in the independent film industry. Submissions for feature-length fiction and nonfiction films for consideration for inclusion in the festival must be completed via Withoutabox, an online submission service.

Requirements for submitting your film to Sundance include:

  • Must be a premiere at one of the three festival levels: International, Documentary or US Dramatic
  • Must have been completed after October 1st of preceding year
  • Film must meet applicable ratings requirements
  • The director must provide two full screeners (DVD), release forms, scripts, etc.
  • Entry fees are determined by when entry is submitted (standard and late fees apply)
  • You must provide appropriate synopsis/description that clearly outlines production values associated with your submission
  • All contact information on entry form must be correct

Submission selections will be announced sometime in December before the inception of the film festival in January. All submissions will receive official confirmation according to their application format.


The Sundance Film Festival is an annual event that has celebrated independent films since its inception in 1978. Each year, filmmakers from around the world submit their films to the festival for consideration, and the jury ultimately awards a handful of filmmakers with the top honours.

Awards at the festival range from Grand Jury Prize winners to Best Direction and Audience Awards. Let’s take a look at some of the awards offered at the Sundance Film Festival:

Categories and Prizes

The Sundance Film Festival is an independent film festival held yearly in Park City, Utah. Founded in 1978, it is the largest independent international film festival in the United States and recognizes emerging directors, writers and actors with awards. The Festival consists of five major sections – US Narrative Feature Competition, US Documentary Feature Competition, World Cinema Dramatic Narrative Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competitions and Spectrum – each offering prizes to outstanding films.

US Narrative Feature Competition: awards are given to up to 16 feature-length American films premiering at the festival; prizewinners range from Best American Drama and Best American Documentary to a special jury award for exceptional performance in acting or directing.

US Documentary Feature Competition: awards up to 12 feature-length American documentary films premiering at the festival by awarding a Grand Jury Prize for best documentary and specialised jury awards for honourable mentions.

World Cinema Dramatic Narrative Competition: awards eight feature-length narrative films from outside the United States competing for a Grand Jury Prize and a world cinema audience award and an honourable mention from special jury award winners.

World Cinema Documentary Competitions: awards 13 groundbreaking feature-length nonfiction films from non-US countries for two Grand Jury Prizes and other special jury honours including cinematography and editing.

Spectrum: highlights creative risk taking by providing competition categories of Next (for filmmakers creating their first or second features), shorts programs (spanning topics like animation and short documentaries), environmental cinema spotlights featuring global environmental issues through short films, episodic showcases (featuring works developed specifically in television formats such as web series)along with experiential projects that explore interactive media boundary pushing narratives. Special prizes are awarded across this section including best director and audience favourites.

Judging Process

A committee of programmers and advisors selects the films in the Festival in collaboration with Sundance Institute’s senior leadership. All films considered are viewed and discussed by multiple members of the team, who then make preliminary decisions. Final selections to move forward to programming and award jury consideration come from consensus recommendations among the entire group.

The jury awards in each section consist of three distinct honours:

  • A Grand Jury Prize
  • One or more Jury Awards for outstanding individual work in a film
  • Audience Awards, chosen through audience ballot for films playing in all sections except short film
  • Special Awards, including those for best short filmmaking, creativity and innovation in storytelling, new voices (young filmmakers), excellence in editing, noteworthy performances, powerful storytelling and originality.

There is also an Excellence in Cinematography Award given at the discretion of the U.S. Documentary Jury to one filmmaker whose work exhibits stunning visual and technical craftsmanship. This award focuses globally on films with particularly strong cinematography applications as an integral part of their success as a narrative film.

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The Sundance Film Festival is held in the United States each year at the end of January, showcasing independent films from around the world. Founded in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent cinema festival in the country and is held in Park City, Utah. It has become a popular event for filmmakers to showcase their work, with some of the most iconic films being shown at the festival.

Let’s take a look at the events held at the Sundance Film Festival:

Types of Events

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual event organised by the Sundance Institute. It was launched in 1978 and is the largest independent film festival in the United States. The festival takes place every year in Park City, Utah and hosts many events to celebrate independent films worldwide.

Types of Events

The program of events varies annually but typically includes:

  • Screening films: hundreds of short films and feature films are screened over multiple days, featuring world-renowned filmmakers and emerging talent.
  • Panels and workshops: attendees can participate in panels and workshops led by industry professionals on topics related to filmmaking such as financing, distribution, visual effects, casting, etc.
  • Live performances: various musical acts perform throughout the festival to accompany special screenings.
  • Satellite events: an array of parties around town including launch parties for films premiering, nightlife events and more that take place outside the main Sundance venue.
  • Awards ceremony: awards are presented for various categories for best director, screenplay, cinematography, etc., and audience awards for favourite presentation.

Venues and Locations

Hosted each year in Park City, Salt Lake City, and various locations throughout Utah, the Sundance Film Festival takes place over 11 days in late January or early February. With over 200 films screened during the festival, many venues are necessary to host this massive event.

The festival includes opening and closing nights mainly held at the Eccles Center Theatre in Salt Lake City and theatres in Park City like the Eccles Center Theatre, Library Center Theatre, Redstone Cinema 1 & 2, Prospector Square Cinema and Broadway Centre Cinema 6. Other theatres used for screenings include Ogden’s Peery Egyptian Theater and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and SLC Downtown’s Screening Room on 9th & 9th.

The Sundance Film Festival also hosts events like:

  • Press screenings at Sundance Mountain Resort specifically for local papers.
  • Private viewings for industry representatives with an invitation-only policy.
  • Private parties exclusive to filmmakers and their guests.

Special Guests

The Sundance Film Festival hosts a variety of special guests every year including industry professionals, notable actors, directors and writers. In addition, special guests often introduce films or participate in conversations or panel discussions sourced from the festival’s programming. These conversations allow attendees to gain access and insight into the process of creating compelling films.

In addition to professional filmmakers, many celebrity fans also attend to show their support for independent film. Celebrity appearances at Sundance have included appearances by Elisabeth Moss, Jeff Bridges, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. Celebrities also star in films shown at the festival – past features have starred Dakota Johnson, Shailene Woodley and Scarlett Johansson amongst others.

The festival also offers receptions and interactions with some special guests such as:

  • Autograph signings
  • Photo opportunities with interviewees or celebrities involved in films being screened at Sundance

These provide attendees with even greater access to filmmakers and movie stars attending the festival.

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