Since the Sundance Film Festival began, it has gone through a series of major changes. Parks City remains at the heart of this time honored event, and will continue to be so as new ideas and blooming talent are showcased in more diverse ways.


child watching film from old projectorThe Sundance Film Festival is most often associated in popular culture with its poster boy, Robert Redford. But contrary to popular belief, Redford is not the festival’s founder–at least, not entirely. The event actually originates from the creation of the U.S. Film Festival–or the Utah/US Film Festival as it was renamed soon after.

Founded by Sterling Van Wagenen (then head of Robert Redford’s company Wildwood) and Utah Film Commission members John Earle and Cirina Hampton Catania, the Utah/U.S. Film Festival was intended to draw more filmmakers to Utah and, with Robert Redford as board chairman, provide a nourishing forum for American independent filmmaking. Some of the first films showcased at the festival (among them Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, and Mean Streets) are now widely considered the forerunners of the American indie-film tradition that would later make the Sundance Film Festival an invaluable influence on American art and culture.

Creation of ‘Sundance’ and Beyond

camera guy with cameraIn an attempt to draw larger crowds and yield Hollywood clientele from ski resorts, the festival made Park City its central location in 1980. Five years later, Redford’s Sundance institute took over the event, and renamed it the Sundance Film Festival in 1991 (Both the festival and Sundance Institute were named after Redford’s character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Since then it has become a place for young filmmakers to find their voice and a breeding ground for smaller films-turned-box office successes. Films like Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 hit Reservoir Dogs, 1999’s indie-horror success The Blair Witch Project, and the 2004 cultural phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite have all found wide mainstream audiences as the festival’s reputation has grown and its awards categories have diversified.

In recent years, Sundance has grown into a mainstream Hollywood affair, much to the dismay of Robert Redford, who strives, along with the Sundance institute as a whole, to maintain emphasis on discovering independent filmmakers and artists.  In response to the influx of paparazzi and celebrity pomp and circumstance, Redford launched Sundance London in April of 2012 in London’s O2 entertainment district. Sundance also held screenings and press discussions in New York in coordination with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) from 2006 to 2008, and now streams films online for the wanting masses who would otherwise not have had access the festival itself.

Despite its growth from a small independent film festival in Utah to a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Park City is still the center of the event and the most authentic way to experience Sundance. Last year, the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, where 54 first time feature-filmmakers were showcased in the 186 films screened in Utah. As we discussed in our Park City Guide to the Sundance Film Festival , the Sundance Film Festival draws a lot of crowds, from Hollywood’s elite to passionate film buffs, so accomodations get booked fast. But if you book early, your Sundance Film Festival Experience is sure to be spectacular.