Should Sundance Excite Us?

By  · Published on January 24th, 2017

Dear FSR

Is the hype real or the ramblings of a bunch of snowed-in Jack Torrances?

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

The new year has just begun and already my various feeds of movie news are clogged up with stuff I don’t think I’ll get to see for months. Maybe years. Sundance seems important. Why else would every site I follow cover it so heavily? But I just like reading about movies and see what I can. Should I really buy into all this hype or wait it out?


San Antonio Sundance Skeptic

Dear Skeptic,

The answer is, like most answers in life, it depends. Staying up on the Sundance Film Festival can make you feel like the Back to the Future II Grays Sports Almanac. You have an inkling of the fresh faces making a name for themselves out there in the movie world, so when the next Kevin Smith (whose Clerks made his career and solidified him as a Sundance staple) or Quentin Tarantino (whose Reservoir Dogs jettisoned him on a slightly more successful path) shows up, you’ll be one of the first people to know.

If you care about premieres of Oscar hopefuls, know that last year’s Sundance saw the debuts of Manchester By the Sea, Love and Friendship, and Certain Women along with screenings of Swiss Army Man, Under the Shadow, and some fantastic docs (Weiner, Hooligan Sparrow, and Gleason among others). It’s a good way to find out what you should be looking for over the next year, even if sometimes the hype can be completely misguided (looking at you, The Birth of a Nation).

This year, it’s hard to avoid the hope pouring out of Sundance and its Women’s March in contrast to the downtrodden hearts of Americans in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Whether it’s the continued showcase of Jenny Slate by Gillian Robespierre in her new Landline after her acclaimed Obvious Child, the sophomore stunner Mudbound from Dee Rees, or the new film from David Lowery, Sundance helps showcase talent that sometimes has a hard time finding an audience.

It’s not that the 32 films we couldn’t wait to see are the end-all-be-all of the festival, but they’re the things that got us excited. Even if Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power seems to suggest that we’re “kind of fucked” (as our reviewer puts it), it’s trying to move forward when most of the film industry (and the country) is resigning to apathetic defeat. Call Me By Your Name has come in hot as an early favorite, garnering comparisons to Moonlight while in your local theater, you might only have the xXx sequel, Monster Trucks, and The Bye Bye Man. There’s just so much more diversity in Sundance, even if there could always be more.

It’s an opportunity to live vicariously through a small group of people whose palpable joy should be felt in every dispatch. You might not get to live in a film-centric winter wonderland this January (or any January) but reading about it is the next best thing.

Yes, sometimes they can get into an echo chamber of circlejerky hype over something that may not deserve it. It’s up to you if that’s worth bearing in mind to get to some juicy tidbits about something like I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore or if you’d rather ignore it and embrace the smaller festivals as they come during the year.

It’s like paying a lot of attention to pre-season in the NFL. Sundance is the pre-season of the film industry.

People are selling themselves, honing their skills, showing off what they’ve worked on. You’re certain to see for yourself as the year goes on if the reactions are deserved or not, but all the information is already out there, waiting to be deciphered and understood.

If you, like me, enjoy telling your friends about upcoming indies they should seek out at the theater or flip through VOD channels to find a familiar name thanks to residual Sundance buzz, paying attention is part of the fun. If you want the quick n’ dirty meat and potatoes, mute the coverage until the fest’s final days. That way you get the conclusions without the bubbles. Tired critics are often the most honest ones.

Leave that skepticism in 2016,


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).