Twenty DePauw students embarked to the snowy mountains of Utah for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
English Professors Peter Graham and Lili Wright have led eight other excursions to the festival throughout the past years. “It was the ninth time that Professor Wright and I have led the trip to Utah to study independent film,” said Graham. “The Sundance Film Festival is a bellwether for small, cutting-edge films made outside of the Hollywood studio system. Sundance has jump-started the careers of countless filmmakers, including Stephen Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, and Morgan Spurlock.”
Founded by Robert Redford in 1985, the Sundance Film Festival takes over Main St. in Park City, Utah, turning boutiques into festival hot-spots and larger buildings into screening venues. Despite the 13,000 submissions the Sundance Institute receives each year, programmers choose approximately 200 feature-length and short films each festival. Sundance is considered the pinnacle showcase for independent film in America.
Students walked up Main St. to catch an Industry panel on any topic from creative storytelling to film distribution, meet filmmakers, or interact with the latest virtual reality technology at Sundance’s New Frontier exhibition.
At night, patrons could attend music concerts, push their way through restaurants like Zoom, Robert Redford’s famous eatery, or hunt down celebrities. Sitting at the top of Main St. is Slamdance, another Independent festival that began in 1995.
All students were required to volunteer at Slamdance, giving them real-world experience on how festivals operate. “Volunteering for Slamdance was very rewarding. I was able to talk to directors of short films, feature films, and even video games,” said sophomore Josh Selke.
Graham and Wright take a unique approach to the festival, giving each student an individualized experience. They had the independence to see particular films, panels, and events during the entire festival.
Students thoroughly enjoyed seeing three to four movies in one day and catching an interesting panel in between. “I really loved seeing Zoe Lister-Jones talk about making her film ‘Band Aid,’” said senior Leah Williams, “She employed an all female cast, and it was really empowering to watch those credits and listen to how efficiently the set ran.”
This was the first year the course was listed for academic credit, which required students to write two reviews on films premiering at Sundance, ranking them one to five paws.
Senior David Kobe and sophomore Frank Roselli attended the 25th Anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ Roselli loved finding seats close to industry insiders. “I think it was really interesting to be watching a movie, look around and see the actor or the director of the movie also watching,” said Roselli. “It felt a little bit like I was in the twilight zone.”
Other students like sophomores Katrina Iorio and Sarah Foye watched the world premiere of ‘Polka King’ with stars Jack Black and Jason Schwartzman on stage.
Ten days filled with early bird screenings and late night premieres, surrounded by filmmakers and creatives alike, DePauw students left Sundance educated, star struck and impassioned about Independent film.