Sundance: Then and Now

The other day I ran across a scanned-in copy of the first Sundance Film Festival program. It’s from 1978, when the festival was called the Utah/USA film festival. Since Sundance is announcing its 2006 lineup this week, I thought it would be interesting to look back to that first year.

Of the twenty-five films submitted in the “Regional Cinema” section (that is, the independent film competition), eight were screened:

Bushman (David Schickele)
Girlfriends (Claudia Weill)
Local Color (Mark Rappaport)
Martin (George A. Romero)
The Whole Shootin’ Match (Eagle Pennel)
Property (Penny Allen)
Johnny Vik (Charles Naumann)
Not a Pretty Picture (Martha Coolidge)

Regional filmmaking was part of the original festival’s mission; it was synonymous with independent film. Bushman was made in San Francisco, and Girlfriends, Local Color, and Not a Pretty Picture are New York movies, but the other four are from around the country: Pittsburgh, Austin, Portland, and Custer, South Dakota. And the ones that weren’t accepted are from all over, too. Those nineteen came from: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Wow. Very cool.

What’s uncool? They’re all depressingly unavailable. Today, of the competition films, only Martin is available on DVD The Rappaport and Weill movies were available on VHS years ago, but are out of print. The program descriptions sound compelling, so it’s sad that these movies aren’t popularly available, especially considering they’re part of the heritage of American independent film.

Oh yeah. One last thing: Of the reject films, one was Robert M. Young’s Alambrista, which had won the Camera d’Or earlier that year at Cannes. The other was this gem of self-reliant filmmaking, which was shot over five years.

UPDATE: June 14, 2009:

Property is now being self-distributed on DVD by Penny Allen.

The Whole Shootin Match was recently released on DVD by Watchmaker Films.

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