Sundance Film Festival is not a name that is taken lightly in the film festival world. The festival has been a pioneer in the film industry for over 35 years, and rightfully so. It is the largest independent film festival in the US, garnering worldwide notoriety and bringing in nearly 60,000 attendees annually.
Aspiring filmmakers submit their independent films along with roughly 13,000 other applicants for a small (about 1%) chance of getting their film into the festival. A lucky (and talented) few get the opportunity to travel to Park City, Utah to debut their films to the world.
The organization continues to be the mecca of the independent film industry. Still, there are some little-known facts about Sundance that have helped develop it into what it is today.
Here are 6 things about Sundance Film Festival that you may not know.
1. Sundance was not the original name
While Sundance has become a commonly used term in the film community, it took a while for organizers to decide on a name. It started out as the United States Film Festival and went through a few other alterations before owners decided on Sundance Film Festival.
2. Sundance Institute was founded by Robert Redford, not the festival
Famed film actor, Robert Redford, founded Sundance Institute in 1981. He later took over the Sundance Film Festival, which was founded in 1978 by Sterling Van Wagenen and John Earle with a goal of supporting and advancing independent filmmakers. In his eyes, everyone has the ability to make a creative impact on the world—they only need the opportunity to do so.
3. Anyone can submit to the film festival
Many believe that this prestigious opportunity is reserved for the well-known, rising stars, however, that could not be further from the truth. Sundance was created to inspire change in the film industry and shake up the status quo. Consequently, all aspiring filmmakers are encouraged to enter their submissions for consideration in the annual film festival. Competition is steep, but it’s certainly worth taking the leap.
4. The chances of getting a distribution deal are quite high
While the odds are stacked against applicants, those who make it in actually have a pretty good chance of getting a distribution deal after their debut in the festival. The films that make it through to the festival are the best of the best, and investors take note. Around 80% of the films in the festival are sold to large entities that bring each filmmaker’s humble dreams to life.
5. The Birth of a Nation made history at Sundance Film Festival
Nate Parker’s film about the life of an American-born slave, Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion, was debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2016. It was one of the highest grossing films at the festival, garnering $17.5 million when it sold to Fox Searchlight for the largest deal in Sundance history.
6. It’s quite possible to leave Sundance a star
Fairytales can come true at Sundance. In 1988, one year after Steven Soderbergh, a struggling filmmaker, volunteered as a festival shuttle driver, he won the Audience Award for his film “sex, lies, & videotape.” The film, which focused on women expressing their sexuality, revolutionized the independent film industry during the late 1990s. A few years later, Robert Rodriguez’s film “El Mariachi”—which he made for only $7,000—won the Audience Award.