As The Submission Deadline Approaches, Cooper Discusses Sundance Selection Process And Changes For '98 Fest

by Mark Rabinowitz

With the Sundance Film Festival submissions deadline rapidly approaching (tomorrow is the deadline for shorts, next Friday for features), indieWIRE spoke with Sundance programmer John Cooper yesterday about the selection process, and changes in store for the 1998 Festival.

"We've chosen a few," said Cooper when asked about how the process was going, adding that they have received more than 200 submissions so far (approximately 130 of them came from the newly instituted early admissions/notification option). This year, rather than forcing all filmmakers to wait until late November to find out their acceptance status, organizers instituted a call for early submissions (at a reduced rate of $35) between August 1 - 25th. Notifications were scheduled to be made through late last week. Films rejected for a competition spot are still in consideration for the American Spectrum section of the festival lineup. Also, a different cut of the same film can be resubmitted for competition consideration at the regular deadline, for an additional $50 fee.

When asked about the reasons for an early submissions process, Cooper replied that the programmers wanted "to be able to release films (to the filmmakers)" faster, because, "so many were waiting to hear from us to move on with their lives." Under the new arrangement, filmmakers can submit to Sundance without jeopardizing their chances at other Fall and Winter festivals. However, while the new process may benefit filmmakers, it created some extra work for the selections staff. John Cooper explained that he used to look at Labor Day weekend as his "last free weekend," but this year he spent it screening submissions.

Cooper also indicated that there would most likely be fewer films screening this year, which combined with a new 1,000-plus seat screening venue, should ease the over crowding and dissatisafaction with imperfect screening facilities. Screenings last year were held in hotel conference rooms and many showings were delayed due to sever technichal problems. These issues would be alleviated by the new facility. Each of the competition films are expected to be screened in the new theater, as will the films in the premieres section, the plan being to give festival attendees more access to the most popular sections of the fest.