Over the years the Sundance Film Festival has undergone many changes. Sundance began in 1985 when Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute bought the struggling U.S. Film Festival and moved the event from Salt Lake City to Park City, Utah. Redford also changed the focus of the film festival to concentrate on the work of independent film makers. In its first year under the Sundance name the festival screened 80 films including the low-budget thriller from producers Joel and Ethan Coen, “Blood Simple”, which won the Grand Jury Prize.
Many milestones have been made at the Sundance Film Festival. Steven Soderbergh’s film, “Sex, Lies and Videotape” made it’s world premier at the Park City festival in 1989 and went on to also win the esteemed Cannes Film Festival. The film was made by a then relatively unknown distribution company called Miramax. The festival officially changed its name to the Sundance Film Festival in 1991. Many unknown film makers have gotten recognition at the event and some have gone on to become some of the best-known film makers of our time.
In 1994, an unknown twenty-three year old film maker named Kevin Smith premiered his $27,000 film “Clerks” about two burnt-out, drop-outs at a convenience store. The film received rave reviews at Sundance and got picked up by Miramax and went on to make $3.1 million at the U.S. box office. The film “Shine” debuted at the festival in 1996 and went on to score seven Oscar nominations in 1997.
There have also been a few flops that were all the rave at the Sundance Festival. One film that didn’t live up to it’s festival “buzz” was “Happy, Texas”, which sold for over $10 million after it’s rave Sundance debut, but only grossed $1.96 at the box office. In contrast, the festival debuted three films in 2004 that went on to collect a combined $83 million in revenues at the box office. “Supersize Me”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, and “Garden State” were all low-budget films that scored big after getting good reviews at Sundance.
At the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, the films “Little Miss Sunshine”, and “An Inconvenient Truth”, received top honors and went on to gross a combined $104 million in ticket sales and snag a total of four Oscars between them the following year. But in 2007 the producers of the event began to get frustrated by of the event’s growing popularity. It seemed that the focus of the event was more about paparazzi and celebrity culture than good films; so the festival planners passed out buttons reading “Focus On Film,” The trend continued in 2008.
Entertainment Weekly Magazine reports that the 2009 Sundance Film Festival will be larger than ever and will, once again, be the industry standard for what movies will be big box office draws in 2010.