Ebert at Sundance
I do not attend Sundance expecting glamor. I will not eat a restaurant meal for the next seven days, will see vegetables only on the screen, will attend four movies on a slow day, will stand in the freezing dark for a shuttle bus to nowhere and will make friends with the folks at the snack counters whose oatmeal cookies, microwave burritos and bottled water sustain life.
...For the average moviegoer, the local multiplex is like 7-Eleven. Lots of candy and pop, but no coffee or bread. Sundance supplies the coffee and bread: Movies to wake you up, and others to feed your soul. This is the festival that gives hope for the future, introduces talents, celebrates the offbeat and the experimental, exists on the cutting edge. Sundance in a sense created a market for that kind of film; the big studios certainly weren't interested in them 20 years ago, but now they all have "classics divisions" devoted to marketing indie and foreign films.
It began with the Sundance story everybody tells, about how Steven Soderbergh's "sex, lies and videotape" created a sensation at Sundance 1989, was picked up by Miramax, essentially put Miramax on the map and created the situation at Sundance 1990 where every distributor in America was prowling the screenings looking for the next Soderbergh.
There have been a lot of next Soderberghs. There will be more this year. Soderbergh himself has gone on to big commercial hits such sa "Ocean's Eleven," but he still has the Sundance spirit. Next week, he opens "Bubble," a great film shot with first-time actors on a tiny budget. In a distribution strategy that has exhibitors angry, it will play on cable the same day it opens in theaters and will come out four days later on DVD. This experiment with simultaneous release may be the salvation of little indie films, which have trouble making themselves seen behind the walls of $30 million ad campaigns.