Every January, the film industry descends on (or rather ascends to) the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Being the biggest and most prestigious film festival in the United States, it draws crowds in the thousands, the hottest independent films of the year, and industry from around the world. It also inevitably draws scorn from the literal thousands of rejected filmmakers and audiences who are shut out of sold-out screenings, and from local citizens who are subjected to the horrible traffic, overpriced meals, and long lines everywhere. Yet, year after year, the city rallies behind the festival, audiences line up, and filmmakers submit for a shot at stardom. Like the rest of the industry, Vimeo attends the festival to experience the high energy and altitude, along with the opportunity to see exciting films and meet a new generation of promising filmmakers. This year, we thought that it might be interesting to embed a mainstay from the Vimeo community in Park City. Over the years, we’ve Staff Picked dozens of films that have screened in the Sundance program, but never have we made a film at Sundance to hopefully Staff Pick. With this in mind, we reached out to John Wilson — a self-described “struggling” Staff Picked documentarian, who has never been able to get into Sundance — and asked him to join us there in the hopes of uncovering some of the festival’s secrets.
Wielding a $100 camera to shoot SD footage that doesn’t even look very good on our media player, Wilson sardonically documents the ins and outs of Sundance in his signature lo-fi style with biting and wickedly dry commentary. After spending years making amateur memoirs in the style of “how to” videos, John was tasked with making a sort of “how come” video about the festival and its evergreen allure. Donning his “Press” hat, which he says is met with “equal amounts of skepticism and acceptance,” he interviews filmmakers, excited fans, and hucksters to get the low-down on what’s up in Park City. Wandering up and down Main Street, remarking on the blend of commercialism and exclusivity, he paints a pretty pallid picture of festival life and the forces that dominate it. But right around the corner, John also manages to find moments of hope, like a stirring film, a connection with an artist, or this year’s Empowering Women’s March amidst a record-breaking blizzard.
2017 is already off to a bizarre beginning, with public examples of outright racism, desires by some to stifle diversity, cuts to arts funding and environmental protection, and more. Wilson starts to recognize that institutions like Sundance are providing a platform for the hope we desperately need to better understand and ultimately triumph over these challenges, by championing independent voices, putting money into arts, and fighting for free speech. Wilson, who has been perennially overlooked by A-list festivals, admits, albeit reluctantly, that he needs Sundance as much as it needs indie filmmakers. According to Wilson, at the end of the day, it’s not escape he wants, but rather “to be part of any club that would have [him] as a member.”
Sundance, we hope you’re watching.
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