Sundance: Fest Half-Embraces the Digital Revolution – Shorts Online? Sure! Movies? Uh, No

Sundance has partnered with companies such as YouTube and Amazon, but a virtual festival is still a ways away.

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 7:15 PM

The Sundance Film Festival has embraced the digital revolution — partnering with tech companies, offering competition shorts online and sprouting digital encampments all over Main Street.

But there’s one place Sundance won’t go: putting festival movies online for people to watch from home.

“If we as a festival choose to put up a feature online during the festival, we would cannibalize its ability to do business,” Sundance Institute Executive director Keri Putnam told TheWrap.

See photos: 18 Must-See Movies at Sundance

While South by Southwest is still the destination for an emerging start-up, Sundance has made significant forays, forging partnerships with iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, VHX, YouTube and many other companies that have altered the way people watch movies and TV. Companies that aspire to bring theatrical-quality movies into the home.

To some degree, they’re doing that: People not at this year’s festival are able to watch 15 shorts in competition on YouTube before they screen, part of a growing relationship between Sundance and the world’s largest video site. And they’ll be able to buy 11 films made by Sundance-supported filmmakers via iTunes, Amazon, Xbox and other platforms.

Those filmmakers will also be able to sell the films on their own thanks to Sundance’s year-old partnerships with companies including Vimeo and VHX. Movies up for sale include a documentary following Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof and one documenting performance artists.

Also read: Sundance Preview: Horror and Jokes Replace Star Power in a Year With No Obvious Breakout Movies

Many of the aforementioned companies have set up camp on Main Street in Park City, establishing a physical presence at the year’s preeminent festival for independent film. There are also TVs across festival venues displaying Sundance’s first social hub, which displays the ten buzziest movies at any given moments, as well as what people are saying about them. Rose McGowan and Katie Couric are two of the guest tweeters.

Despite all the incursion of all these new companies, there’s only one way festival films will screen online, Putnam said: If “someone came to us and said ‘I want my film online and we don’t care about distribution.'”

Fat chance.

Putnam could not imagine any Sundance filmmaker being open to giving the movie away for free at a festival where they’ve been scrounging for payoffs for 30 years running. She does, however, encourage filmmakers to cut out the middle men and distribute movies on their own.

Also read: Sundance: 10 Buzzed-About Filmmakers at This Year’s Fest

That might be one remedy to New York Times’ film critic Manohla Dargis’ recent complaint: that too many movies are getting bought.

“I have a little favor to ask of the people cutting the checks: Stop buying so many movies,” Dargis wrote. “Or at least take a moment and consider whether flooding theaters with titles is good for movies and moviegoers alike.”

Festival director John Cooper dismissed the piece, suggesting Dargis just review fewer movies.

“Go get another job or change the policy where you’re working,” he joked. “I don’t know how to solve that job.”

When TheWrap pointed out the problem may be too many deals – not too many movies — Cooper retorted, “I see that as filmmakers making their money back, and getting careers, and going on and making other films.”

Maybe that one will debut online.


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