In 1981 Robert Redford gathered a group of colleagues and friends at Sundance, Utah to discuss new ways to enhance the artistic vitality of the American film. The result was the establishment of the Sundance Institute, dedicated to the support and development of independent filmmakers.

Since its inception, the Sundance Institute has become expanded its mission to serve screenwriters, directors, playwrights, performance artists and cinematographers. With the incorporation of the Sundance Film Festival in 1985, Sundance has sought to further the national and international exhibition of independent dramatic and documentary films.

Sundance has initiated international programs to promote exchange of ideas, freedom of expression and shared resources. These have included: a multi-faceted Latin American Program, Screenwriters Labs in Mexico, Chile and France, and annual Sundance Film Festivals in Tokyo (since 1987) and Beijing (beginning in 1995). The Institute has also sustained a playwrights' development program and children's theater development and production.

More then forty films originally developed at the Sundance Institute are seen in theaters worldwide and on television, including: El Norte, A Dry white Season, Desert Bloom, The Trip to Bountiful, Once Around, Impromptu, Reservoir Dogs, Mi Vida Loca, Fresh, and I Like It Like That.



Filmmakers Lab: At the core of the work of the Sundance Institute is the Filmmakers Lab. The first program created by the Sundance Institute, the Lab is a three-week long hands-on workshop for writers and directors that takes place each June at Sundance. Projects are rehearsed, shot and edited on videotape under the mentorship of seasoned writers, directors, editors, cinematographers, and producers. Past resource advisors include Sydney Pollack, Glenn Close, Alan Pakula, Terry Gilllam, Denzel Washington, Frank Daniel, Joan Tewkesbury, James L. Brooks and Morgan Freeman.

A company of professional actors is cast to collaborate with the writers and directors during the Lab. The Sundance Institute has supported over 150 writers and directors through the Filmmakers Labs in the past 14 years.

January Screenwriters Lab: Selected screenwriters are invited to Sundance for five days in January to develop their scripts. Again, resource personnel act as advisors throughout the process conducting individual story conferences and general problem solving sessions.

Producers Conference: Filmmakers and producers are invited to a weekend conference in July focusing on independent production. Led by top industry professionals, the Producers Conference focuses on the business aspects of creative independent filmmaking, offering vital and hard-to-get information on financing, development, co-production, marketing and distribution. Special preview screenings and discussions with filmmakers and producers are held during the course of the conference.


The Sundance Institute adopted sponsorship of the United States Film Festival in 1985, creating an internationally recognized showcase for new independent cinema. The highlight of the Festival is the American Independent Dramatic and Documentary Competition, where new independent American films are given their premieres. Exposure through the competition brings to prominence scores of films that would not ordinarily be seen by distributors and studios. Many emerging independent filmmakers now look to the Sundance Film Festival as their first opportunity to present their films before an audience. Notable films discovered through the Competition include sex, lies and videotape, Blood Simple, the Academy-award winner for Best Documentary, American Dream, Brother's Keeper, River's Edge, True Love, Paris is Burning, The Waterdance, A Brief History of Time, Ruby in Paradise, Silverlake Life: The View from Here, Spanking the Monkey, Hoop Dreams ,Clerks, Fresh, What Happened Was...,El Mariachi, Living in Oblivion, Crumb and The Brothers McMullen.

In its continuing efforts to exhibit the breadth, depth and diversity of American independent cinema, the 1996 Sundance Film Festival will debut FIRST CINEMA. This new section of the Sundance Film Festival will exhibit approximately twenty dramatic and documentary feature films in a special out-of-competition showcase, and will offer American directors of first or second feature films a chance to premiere their new work.


Latin American Initiative: Since 1986, the Sundance Institute has supported individual Latin American filmmakers by inducting these artists and their films in the Sundance filmmakers labs, the Sundance Film Festival and the annual Independent Producers Conference. The involvement of our Latin colleagues in the various Sundance programs has enriched the programs and brings long-overdue recognition to Latin America's prodigious film talent. With the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Sundance implemented a new Latin American initiative in 1993, which include the Latin American Producers Conference Focus:
Mexico. held in July, 1993 in Toluca. as well as Screenwriters Labs in Mexico and Chile.

Screenwriters Lab in Bordeaux, France: The Institute's program in Europe is currently limited to supporting the next generation of European screenwriters through two annual labs organized by Equinoxe held in Bordeaux, France. This organization was created to provide young European screenwriters with the opportunity to work with established European and U.S. screenwriters and to experience different methods of cinematic creation. Equinoxe is sponsored by the Sundance Institute, Canal Plus, Sony Entertainment, Centre National du Cinéma, British Screen and the European Script Fund. Countries that have been represented include France, Belgium, Portugal, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany and Spain.

Sundance Film Festival in Tokyo: In 1987, Seiji Tsutsumi, founder of the Seiyu Saison Group of Japan, invited the Sundance Institute to bring its annual Festival to Tokyo. The result was an annual Sundance Film Festival in Japan, and a cultural exchange program between Sundance and Japanese filmmakers. Selected dramatic and documentary features from the Sundance Film Festivals will be presented in Tokyo in November 1995. A delegation of filmmakers will participate in various screening events, press conferences and round-table discussions. In addition, a Japanese filmmaker is selected to receive a scholarship to attend the Sundance Institute's Filmmakers Lab and Festival in Utah.

Sundance Film Festival In Beijing: The Sundance Institute is organizing the first ever exhibition of American Independent Film in Beijing, to be held October 5th - 10th, 1995. The goal of the project is to develop a bridge between the film communities in the United States and China and to honor the history of filmmaking in these two countries. The Sundance Film Festival in Beijing will include a retrospective of ten years of American independent film, a special sidebar premiering the films of young Chinese filmmakers, and seminars and special events featuring prominent American and Chinese filmmakers.


Established in 1990 with leadership support from the George and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, the Sundance Children's Theater is dedicated to developing a new body of children's literature for the stage and screen. Sundance commissions established playwrights to write new children's plays, which are then developed and produced during Sundance's season for young audiences each summer in Utah. Touring of the plays in Utah schools is an important component of the program, and plans are under way to extend the tour to include schools throughout the southwest region, particularly in culturally under served areas such as rural Utah, Nevada and Arizona. Appropriate plays will be developed for film and television, expanding the audiences for these new works.


Special projects are initiated to enhance Sundance '5 core programs and to allow the Institute to respond to immediate issues in film and in the larger landscape of the arts community.

Transitional Artists Fellows: Sundance actively seeks out talented artists in other disciplines, such as playwrights, choreographers, and performance artists, who want to contribute their personal vision to the art of fllmmaking. Sundance provides the resources of our film development community - knowledgeable professionals, equipment and rehearsal time, collaboration and the freedom to experiment -- that truly direct the artist to discover new skills.

New Media Initiative: With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, a retreat was held in March, 1995 at Sundance involving many of the leading practitioners of interactive fiction. This retreat laid the groundwork for a future interactive lab to encourage experimentation and creativity in this exciting new narrative form. The next phases of this program include the expansion of a previously established worldwide web site, and the establishment of a New Media Center at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.

In addition to our programming initiative, Sundance has entered into a coproduction agreement with Ilumina Productions to design and produce two interactive products for Viacom New Media, adapted from plays developed at the Sundance Children's Theater. The first CD-ROM, based on the play Otis Furioso by Pail Ailman, will be available in the summer of 1995. The second title, based on the play Phoebe's Closet by Mary Gail, will be released early in 1996.


The Sundance Institute is governed by a 25-member Board of Trustees, chaired by Walter Weisman, its President is Robert Redford and its Executive vice-President is Gary Beer. Nicole Guillemet is vice President and General Manager, Michelle Satter is Director of the Feature Film Program, Geoffrey Gilmore is Director of Film Festival Programming and Special Projects and Louise Adler is Director of Development


The budget for the 1994-95 fiscal year of the Sundance Institute is $2.9 million; approximately 45% is obtained through earned income and 55% is obtained through grants and contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations and government agencies.



The first U.S. Film Festival was held in September of 1978, at Trolley Corners Theaters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Organized by Sterling Vanwagenen, the first festival director, and John Earle, the then director of the Utah Film Commission, the festival aspired to be an on going national film event, presenting a unique opportunity to attract filmmakers to Utah. The festival was built largely out of retrospective films and featured appearances by important filmmakers, author, film critics and actors. At the suggestion of Arthur Knight, USC professor of film, a national competition was created to highlight emerging American made independent films; films made outside of the Hollywood system which emphasized regional stories and lower budgets. Lawrence Smith coordinated the first competition as well as seven subsequent ones. The most widely attended films in the 1978 festival were the competition films.


The renamed Utah/U.S. Film Festival was again held in September in Salt Lake City at the Elks Theatres. The program consisted primarily of retrospective films, but also included a slightly expanded Independent Film Competition which once again was the most widely attended portion of the program.


This year marked significant changes for the film festival. The event, at Advisory Board member Sydney Pollack';s suggestion, was moved to Park City, Utah and took place in January. American independent films, documentaries and premieres dominated the program and retrospective films were scaled back. video was also added as were filmmaker seminars.


The festival officially added a documentary competition to the event. It also added a competition for video and a program of short films.


In addition to the independent competition for dramatic and documentary films, and one for video, the festival exhibited a retrospective of the most ground-breaking American Independent films from 1958-1967, entitled "New Wave," and organized by Media Study and the Walker Art Center.


1984 marked a transitional year. The video portion of the festival was discontinued, while the film program remained strong. It became apparent that the festival needed the support of an organization that could provide it with year round staffing, financial backing and a network of contacts. Robert Redford expressed his desire to have the Sundance Institute provide a home for the festival and to retain the event's focus on Independent film.


The Sundance Institute incorporated the film festival into its slate of programs. The event was expanded to ten days and for the first time included a sidebar of international films.


The Sundance Film Festival (formal title since 1991) has matured and continues to flourish under the auspices of the Sundance Institute. Geoffrey Gilmore is the Director of Film Festival Programming and Special Projects. John Cooper and Christian Gaines are Film Programmers. The Competition Selection Advisory Board includes: Andrea Alsberg, Robert Hawk, Laurence Kardish, B. Ruby Rich, Lawrence Smith, Genevieve Villaflor and Norman Wang. Nicole Guillemet is the vice President and General Manager, Managing Director. The Independent Feature Film Competition, which began in 1978, continues to be the foremost showcase for American independent film. In addition to the competition, the eleven day festival also features premieres, tributes, international cinema, retrospective programs and panel discussions with leading figures from the film industry. The festival takes place the third week of January each year. In addition to Grand Jury prizes awarded to dramatic to dramatic and documentary features in the Competition, other awards and tributes include: The Waldo Salt Screenwriters Award, The Freedom of Expression Award, the Special Recognition in Short Filmmaking Award, The Special Recognition Award in Latin Cinema, and the Piper Heidsieck Tribute to Independent Vision.

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