It’s that time of year again: The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will take place from January 18 through January 28. This year marks the festival’s 40th edition since the Sundance Institute took over.
The Sundance Film Festival was originally named the Utah Film Festival, then the Utah/U.S. Film Festival, and then the U.S. Film and Video Festival. Sterling Van Wagenen and John Earle started the festival to bring more people to Utah. Earle wanted films, panel discussions, and a competition of films created outside of Hollywood and provided some of the initial funding through the Utah Film Commission in 1978 and acquired more funding through private donations. However, the Festival was in debt and changes needed to be made quickly.
Originally, the Festival was held in Salt Lake City in September every year, but they made two changes in 1981, moving the Festival to Park City and into January, so that it would be the only festival in the world taking place in the winter at a ski resort.
Meanwhile, Robert Redford visited Utah on a motorcycle trip. He purchased two acres of land in Provo and built himself a cabin. Eight years later he bought five thousand more acres of land in outside of Provo and called it the Sundance Resort, after the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the movie, Redford played Harry Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid. Redford also started the Sundance Institute in 1981.
The original mission of the Institute was to have a place where independent filmmakers could utilize workshops or labs, gain access to resources, and learn the process of filmmaking. The program would help filmmakers with skills from script writing all the way through finding producers and funding. The first year had sixty-five students in the labs collaborating with directors, actors, producers, and others to take their abilities to the next level.
In 1984, Sundance Institute took over the festival operations, with their first time running the show coming in January 1985. Their intention was to showcase one year’s worth of work from the Institute’s labs. In 1991 it was renamed the Sundance Film Festival. Eventually, the festival grew in demand, received a lot of publicity, got out of debt, and became more the experience that we know today.
When the festival first began, the various categories included documentary, short films, video art, and movies made for television. As it grew larger, the categories were changed to reflect the times, and many more were added. Today, for example, the Sundance Film Festival offers films in the U.S. and World Dramatic Competitions, U.S. and World Documentary Competitions, Next, Midnight, Premieres, Spotlight, Family, Episodic, Shorts, etc.
The Sundance Film Festival is noted as being one of the five biggest film Festivals in the world along with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Toronto. As well, Sundance is the largest independent film festival. There have been many awards given to Sundance Films over the years, but their first Academy Award in the Best Picture selection was given to CODA in 2022.
The Park City Museum will be closed to the public from Monday, January 15 through Friday, January 26 during Sundance and will reopen to the public on Saturday, January 27.