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Sundance 2020 Recap and Impressions

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Well it’s the Monday after Sundance and most everything that screened was purchased by the likes of Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, or other media conglomerates. Here's my experience and detail on a few of the fantastic movies we saw along with some input on my experience as a whole.

First, the films:

Spree: Picked up on the very last day of the festival by RLJE films for $2mil. This was in my opinion, the best of the fest. There were films that I enjoyed more, but Spree embodies the ingenuity and creativity of a true indie film. It was the film here that most deserved the hype.

Shot on seven GoPro Hero’s and numerous mobile devices, anybody with the ideas could have made this film. There was no barrier to entry. No Arri Alexas or high budget sets. Most of the film took place in a a Toyota Prius with $20 light bars providing the needed atmosphere.

The story was very successful in making me think about the world we live in and our actions as a society obsessed with social media culture. It’s surprising that no film I have seen besides this one has tackled the issue with such poise. The entertainment value and unpredictability of the script was unprecedented.

Run Sweetheart Run: Funded by Blumhouse with a budget I estimate of at least $5 million, this film wasn't really an independent feature. The more I think though, where else other than Sundance would have been seen? It certainly wasn’t something that would do well with a wide release but deserved more than a standard Netflix drop.

Centered around the “Me Too” movement but framed in the context of a horror story, Run Sweetheart Run was a surprising find that I enjoyed immensely. Many others didn’t. In fact, several women left in the first 15 minutes. I imagine had they stayed to the third act they would have found the message of womens empowerment to be redeeming of the violence and sexual abuse featured earlier in the film.

Dinner in America: Filled with comedy, drama, and action in an ambiguously packaged Americana film, this one got me in the feels. Described by the lead actress as “A savage love story about connection through music” this film went a lot deeper, touching on America’s culture of bullying, drug addiction, family values, and crime. Even with all of that though, the film never got too heavy.

Light hearted and fun, Dinner in America set out to explain that there is a match for everybody in this crazy world and weather you come from a wealthy family or live a simple life in the lower class, there are things in society that keep us connected if you know where to look.

VR and New Frontier

I have recently had an obsession with VR and was excited to explore the best of the best in narrative VR after an extremely satisfying experience with Sandbox VR gaming back at home.

My first takeaway was that VR is still in the early stages as far as narrative storytelling is concerned. Most of the programming was anything but immersive. Viewers were always offered an opportunity to view the environment via a spinning office chair, but most of the time there was an obvious focal point and little incentive to look anywhere else.

The winner of the VR program “Flowers and a Switchblade” was immersive and impressively filmed on an iPhone and stitched together rather than the Standard practice of 360 cameras. The star of the experience was less the story and more the process in which they used to create the experience for the viewer.

Shorts Program 1

These days most of the narrative media I create is in short programming so I was very excited to view and learn from what Sundance had to offer.

Among the best were “Blocks” A story about finding identity through parenting, “Hudson Geese” a hilarious narrative detailing an infamous event of an emergency airline landing through the lens of the geese that caused it, and “John was

Trying to Contact Aliens” The story of a man obsessed with trying for his entire life to Connect with anybody who would listen which won the shorts competition.

Among the worst were “Sadla” The hypocritical story of young black men harassed by law enforcement only to turn around and harass a woman in the same way and “Exam” The story of a woman trafficking cocaine in a conservative Muslim society where religion is more of a character than any of the people in the film.

Has Sundance become too corporate?

This is a rough question for me to answer because, but in my opinion, yes.

About half of the feature films I saw were funded by major players such as Annapurna, Blumhouse, etc. and every time I saw the opening cards on these films it made me think differently about the project: like they didn’t deserve to be there. These weren’t indie movies, these were Hollywood films with big budgets at an “independent” film festival. It isn’t that they didn’t deserve or work for the funding, it just seemed like they had it easier. They had more connections and resources available to make their films and that meant that perfection was more expected than somebody who scraped together donations from crowdfunding and made concessions to stay on a razor thin budget or financed the films themselves. I can look past a rough cut or continuity issue for a true indie film, but when Annapurna is funding a project with a large budget, it’s harder to do so. It’s hard for me to personally respect a filmmaker who has every project funded through their Hollywood connections and then claims to be independent. It’s even harder when the work isn’t extraordinary, and some were not.


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