This week thousands of movie directors, writers, actors and Hollywood executives are huddled together in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah attending two independent film festivals. One is the now prestigious and well-established Sundance Festival, which was started with support from actor Robert Redford 22 years ago. The other is a more free-spirited event called the Slamdance Festival, which is now in its 12th year.
Independent film producers were once on the fringes of the movie industry, struggling to have their works seen in small theaters and rented halls. The Sundance Festival has helped change all that by giving independent films recognition and all-important exposure.
The Sundance festival and the Slamdance Festival, which takes place at the same time, have put Park City, Utah on the Hollywood map. Every January, this ski resort with a population of about 7,000 hosts more than double that number of people who come to the festivals.
Craig McCarthy of the Park City Chamber of Commerce says the town takes on a lot of glitter and glamour as a result. "It is a really neat change of pace to all of a sudden have over 15,000 additional people who do not come from the ski and snowboard world as our normal customers do," he said. "It makes the town quite lively and it is just a really fun time for all of us." Mr. McCarthy says the festivals also bring in about $22 million to the local economy.
Millions of people around the world who are unable to go to Park City can also participate in the festivals, thanks to modern technology. Many of the films will end up being shown on cable television channels around the world and winning films are almost assured of distribution on DVDs, which are distributed worldwide.
Technology has a more immediate impact through the internet. The Sundance Festival is offering free, real-time online showings of some of the films entered in this year's competition on Sundance.org. The Slamdance Festival also has free viewings of short films on its web site, Slamdance.com.
Slamdance co-founder and independent filmmaker Dan Mirvish, speaking to VOA by telephone from Park City, says the festival has grown into something much bigger than a 10-day event.
"We also have a full, year-round operation with a screenplay competition, we have a web site, Slamdance.com, where you can watch short films year round. We do screenings once a month in New York and events in L.A. [Los Angeles] We travel around the world actually. We have done events everywhere from China to Chile to Stockholm, Sweden to Cannes," said Mirvish. "So we really have a global presence one way or another now."
Mirvish says the internet now plays a big role in the festival. All through the year, he says, short films are shown on the web site so that online viewers can rate them.
"Those then actually come to Park City and then they are voted on in Park City and on our web site. So it is a separate and parallel competition," he added. "It is a nice way to have a sort of year-round competition."
Mirvish says technology, in the form of small digital cameras and computer editing programs has also made it possible for anyone, anywhere to make a film.
"It is amazing what you can do with these cameras. Every year they get a little better and fancier," he said. "There is no reason you cannot shoot a film for $5,000, $10,000, or $500 or even $50, if you have the camera. Then the editing and post production and sound work that you can do on your MacIntosh or whatever computer is amazing."
Dan Mirvish shot his latest film, Open House: A Real Estate Musical Comedy, with digital video cameras. The film is now out on DVD and has become a cult favorite around the country. In fact, he says, Open House has taken on a life of its own.
"People all around the country and it is starting to be around the world now, too, watch the film and they are throwing their own real estate open house parties, where they make finger sandwiches, which is kind of a key thing in the movie, and they are sending in home videos of them watching the film. It has become a bit of an interactive thing," said Mirvish. "Now there are high schools that actually want to do stage versions of the film, because it is a musical."
Both the Sundance and Slamdance festivals wrap up this weekend (Jan. 29), but independent filmmakers around the world are invited to prepare submissions for next year's competitions.