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Sundance 2013: Documentaries shine in Utah

At the Sundance Film Festival, docs like 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' and 'The Crash Reel' show some of the best the industry has to offer.

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The Sundance Film Festival is held in Park City, Utah.

Ari Perilstein/Getty Images

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The weather was so uncharacteristically unglacial this year at the Sundance Film Festival that I almost – almost! – pitied the winter warriors deprived of their annual bout of bone-chill. Getting around Park City, Utah, has never been less of an ordeal. You could concentrate on the movies, not ice storms. I found myself rethinking my opposition to global warming.

Of the 119 movies from 32 countries that screened at Sundance, I saw 15 in five days. If I missed more than my share of buzz-worthy fare, so did everybody else. Pity the poor festival programmers: They had to winnow the list down from more than 4,000 submissions.

In a series of firsts for the festival, there were 51 rookie filmmakers represented, and eight of the 16 films in official competition were directed by women. There was also much more talk than usual about the ways in which movies – especially the independent fare and documentaries that make up Sundance – are experienced by audiences.

As moviemaking becomes incrementally less expensive largely because of the rise of digital technology, a way will have to be found to showcase the burgeoning proliferation of films. The old big-screen theatrical model is giving way to video-on-demand via distribution services such as iTunes and pay-per-view TV channels. In the future, day-and-date VOD and theatrical releases of a given movie may become commonplace (if, indeed, a film is released theatrically at all).

Many of the Sundance filmmakers who once saw their indie cred as a steppingstone to Hollywood have embraced or resigned themselves to the fact that, because the studios are increasingly risk-averse and franchise-driven, their careers will likely be played out in the independent realm or on cable TV. As one producer here told me: “I can’t get studio funding for the movies I want to make. More and more of us are moving to television.”

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