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June 9, 2023

What is the Sundance Film Festival?

Sundance Film Festival is one of the biggest independent film festivals in the world. If you can’t make it to the actual festival then being aware of what it is and which films will appear at the festival is a must for any screenwriter.

It’s particularly important for any filmmaker who wants to enter Hollywood and the mainstream industry rather than cut their teeth on independent films. 

Here iseverything screenwriters need to know about Sundance Film Festival.

What is the Sundance Film Festival?

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual film festival, organised by the Sundance Institute. The festival is one of the largest independent film festivals in the world. 

Since its launch in 1985, hundreds of films launched at the festival have reached worldwide audiences eager for fresh perspectives and new voices, many of which have also gained critical recognition.

Sundance Film Festival acts as a showcase for international and independent filmmakers, bringing together original storytellers and featuring a packed program of content and storytelling in the format of films, documentaries, panel discussions, workshops, performances, exhibitions, events and parties.

Where is Sundance Film Festival 2024?

The Sundance Film Festival takes place each January in Park City, Utah.

A lecture theatre preparing to host next year's Sundance Film Festival with the dates for 2024 displayed on screen
The dates for the Sundance Film Festival have been set for 2024

When is the next Sundance Film Festival?

Next year’s film festival will run from January 18th to 28th, 2024.

What’s on the Sundance Film Festival annual program?

The festival shows approximately 200 films during its 10-day run and offers prizes in several competition categories. 

The program includes competitive sections for American and international dramatic and documentary films, both feature films and short films, and a group of out-of-competition sections, including NEXT, Midnight, Sundance Kids, New Frontier, Spotlight, and From the Collection.

How many people typically attend Sundance Film Festival?

Approximately 50,000 attendees attend the film festival, including industry insiders and the filmgoing public.

How can I attend Sundance Film Festival?

Sundance Film Festival is open to everyone. All you have to do is buy a ticket – there’s no compulsory registration or accreditation required. 

Entry options include a festival pass, a ticket package, or an individual ticket if you want to see any films, access official venues, or attend festival events.

How did the Sundance Film Festival begin?

Sundance began in Salt Lake City in 1978 and was originally known as the Utah/US Film Festival. Its aim was to showcase American-made films, highlight independent films, and increase visibility for filmmaking in Utah. 

It was founded by Sterling Van Wagenen (head of Robert Redford’s company, Wildwood) and John Earle, of the Utah Film Commission. 

Actor and director Robert Redford, who lived in Utah, was appointed the festival board’s first chairman, and his involvement helped raise awareness and funds for the new festival. The first festival in 1978 featured films such as Deliverance, A Streetcar Named Desire and Midnight Cowboy.

What is the Sundance Institute?

The Sundance Institute is an internationally recognised resource for thousands of artists, and was founded by Robert Redford in 1981 in Utah. The Institute is a non-profit organisation that seeks to advance the impact of independent storytelling worldwide through the festival and its artistic development programs.

The Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for independent artists to create and present original and authentic new work.

What are some of the prizes at the Sundance Film Festival?

The festival offers prizes in several categories of competition. Among these honours are the Grand Jury Prize, awarded for documentaries and dramatic films originating in the United States, and the World Cinema Jury Prize, given for documentaries and dramatic films originating elsewhere. 

There are many other awards, including the Directing Award, Special 

Jury prizes and audience awards

Which famous films and filmmakers have been featured in the Sundance Film Festival?

Many films premiering at Sundance have gone on to be nominated and win Oscars. Notable independent filmmakers and directors who received their big break at Sundance include Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Todd Field, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky and James Wan.

The festival also brought attention to now well-known films such as Saw, American Psycho, The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite, Whiplash and Boyhood.

Patrick Bateman the serial killer lead in American Psycho carrying an axe, preparing to kill
The festival was credited with getting traction for classic films like American Psycho

Many films from the festival have received critical acclaim and mainstream popularity. For example, in 1999, the film Three Seasons made festival history as the first to ever receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award

And three films from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival went on to garner eight Oscar nominations. Manchester by the Sea led the Sundance-supported films with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. 

How many films at the festival actually get picked up?

The following year, about 40 films from the festival were acquired by distributors, including Amazon, Netflix, and Universal. At the 2021 festival, CODA was the first Sundance film to win an Oscar for Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards.

For more on the latest opportunities for screenwriters and top tips on how to get your film to screen be sure to checkout the rest of our blog and download Arc Studio pro for free today.


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What is the Sundance Film Festival?
Danielle Owen-Jones

Danielle Owen-Jones is a professional writer and the author of two romantic comedies, Stone Broke Heiress and Stuck With Him, published worldwide by Bookouture (Hachette UK). Danielle worked in journalism and PR before launching a freelance content writing business alongside writing her novels.

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