DECADE: A Decade in the Hot Seat -- Geoff Gilmore and the Sundance Film Festival, Part 2

by Eugene Hernandez

indieWIRE's conversation with Geoff Gilmore continues...

indieWIRE: A lot of iW readers are, other than the industry, what I would
call first-time filmmakers, or pre-first-time filmmakers. But clearly not
every one of those films makes it into a Sundance or even a solid regional
film festival. And I'm wondering what you think is the state of the world
for that segment of people and the environment that they're starting out in
now. Because you're seeing their work and you're not able to -- or wanting
to -- accept it all.

Geoffrey Gilmore: That's a really good question, because there's such a
sense that people have that we're responsive to filmmakers that have some
reputation and not responsive to the first time feature makers, and yet, when
we look at the number of first time and second time feature makers in the
festival, and certainly in the last couple of years, we have like 60 or 70%
of the festival is still first-time and second-time feature makers. And I
haven't done the assessment yet this year -- I'll do it at some point when I
have time [laughs] -- and the fact of the matter is we may be slightly lower
this year, but some of the filmmakers that we have in the festival are
filmmakers who aren't first or second time feature makers, but many of them
are filmmakers who even though this might be a film that's a second or third
feature, are not necessarily established filmmakers. They're not
necessarily someone who's first feature launched them into a very high
profile career. And again, that just gets back to the maturation of this

As an example, we have a filmmaker in competition called Marc Forster, who
did a film called "Everything Put Together" and I believe, and I'm not sure
I'm right, that this is his third feature. And the other two features that
he's done -- I'd seen one of them which I remembered very distinctly -- and
I remembered the other one. But both basically disappeared with very little
trace. So one can talk about Marc Forster as being a filmmaker who's not a
first-time filmmaker, but he's also a filmmaker that is actually still
completely unknown. And so we find ourselves in that situation a lot, where
even for filmmakers that are first-time filmmakers, there used to be a sense
that real talent shows itself on its first work, and I always go back to a
story that I think was being told by [Peter] Bogdanovich or someone....But they were
talking about John Ford, who had made 22 films in the silent film period
before he made "The Iron Horse," and "The Iron Horse" was the film that made
his reputation. And yet, this was the 23rd feature of his career. And this
is back in the 20's, well before the 80+ features, decades of work ahead of
him. But somehow, the sense of independent filmmakers is that we have to
force them to be not only successful, but somehow brilliantly successful in
their first effort. And I'm not sure that we're going to find that's more of
an exception to the rule than it has been the rule. Those filmmakers that
emerge in a blaze of glory with their first work, they'll be there, but
there's also a lot of filmmakers who will really, in some sense, need that
opportunity to work to find their own voice, their own directorial touch.

That's something that I encourage people to do as much as I possibly can,
which is to work. Get your films made, if you can be part of getting them
out, get them out. If they get out, fine, but continue to work and find
yourself a situation where you can make whatever it is you have to make,
even if it's sometimes not a feature film. You know, to find a way to
develop your talent. And that's something that we very much deal with in
encouraging the new filmmakers at this point to continue to work. Because
it's an obviously incredibly difficult, competitive, not just marketplace,
but filmmaking universe, and I go back to what we just said -- if ten years
ago we looked at a couple of hundred features, and now we're looking at
1,000, just the numbers alone are obstacles that people didn't have to face.
And it creates a great deal of anxiety for people.

"The sense of independent filmmakers is that we have to force
them to be not only successful, but somehow brilliantly successful in their
first effort. And I'm not sure that we're going to find that's more of an
exception to the rule than it has been the rule."

I know a tremendous amount of people seem to think that the way to overcome
that is to make the most commercial film possible. And in fact, what we seem
to feel is more true, is to make the most original film possible which is
the film most likely to be commercial, rather than the work that is
derivative, rather than the work that seems familiar. So filmmakers who
have broken through with originality, with audaciousness, you end up
feeling, "Oh my lord, we've just had the opportunity to look again, to go
into a process of discovery." And I don't feel that process of discovery is
any more closed now than it was then. But I do find a lot of filmmaking
which is not particularly audacious and not particularly in a sense where
people really set a high standard for themselves. It's not particularly

The quality overall of the independent work has, I think, increased as an
overall standard, meaning that there's an essential quality to the
production value, oftentimes the casting process has been done more
carefully, that the script was more carefully considered, and there were
more experienced people around them that could offer aid, that could help
shape their work. So we did find work that was not as immediately awful as
we might have found a decade ago, but that doesn't mean that the opposite
isn't true either, that we don't immediately find work that's as audacious
or creative.

indieWIRE: I spent a lot of the last few years moderating panels about new
technologies and digital developments, and I'm wondering how you imagine
Sundance or the general festival experience changing over the next decade as
a result of some of the things we're starting to get a taste of now, the
internet and electronic cinema, etc.?

Gilmore: I think it's going to change because I do think that one of the
things the internet opens up, both from the process of production as well as
from the aspects for potential new distribution avenues or other kinds of
broadcast or other ways of allowing work to find audiences -- we're going to
see a lot of other models develop. We're going to see incremental changes,
not a sudden wave, but incremental changes for the next couple of years.
And I think those are changes that we've experienced over the last couple of
years, and I expect those incremental changes to continue in that way. It's
a possibility that ultimately those incremental changes will build into a
sudden big wave at some point, but it certainly is something that hasn't
happened yet. And in part perhaps it hasn't happened because the models
haven't been there, because the number of people who look and try to focus
on what they're going to produce as trying to not simply copy someone but
emulate what their financial successes are, haven't appeared yet. And as
that begins to appear, we're certainly going to see, I hope, an even
broader based set of opportunities for new filmmakers. And ideally a market
that, as many people talk about in the present marketplace, the hole in the
marketplace that exists now, the difficulty of getting unknown films into
the marketplace who have to compete with much better known, better financed
independent films, will find possibilities that I'm quite sure will help
stimulate and encourage people to work in film and media production in a way
that's very innovative.

It won't simply be a set of commercial models, but it really will go back to
the sense of experimentation, and even for that matter almost kind of
"counter production," making works that represent alternatives, that really
are self-consciously alternatives to things that people really don't feel
fulfilled with that are already out there. And that I hope will stimulate
even more production in that vein that will ultimately build up the
aesthetic possibilities for this kind of production and for its reception.
Because it's that reception of course that we're all depending upon.

"There's clearly a lot of people out there who are very
dissatisfied with what they're being given -- without condemning other kinds
of production -- I very much feel that what we do need however is the
opportunities for new creative voices to emerge, and that's what we're all
concerned about."

There's an awful lot of people who have said that regardless of the fact
that independent work has evolved tremendously over the last ten years, that
the audiences have not evolved as rapidly with it. And part of that problem
still gets back down to the crush that independent faces in a very
competitive and difficultly defined marketplace, one that's dominated almost
wholly still by studios. And so those opportunities arguably will help
develop that audience, and by developing that audience, again I really think
you start to build alternative structures which allow for, I hope, a breadth
of production and a breadth of creativity that ultimately ideally bodes very

indieWIRE: What would you see Sundance's responsibility or role in embracing that?

Gilmore: I think we've talked a lot about it. We're showing digital
projection this year, but I think that's a minor first step. I think a lot
of it will continue to be our openness to certain kinds of work. And by
being open to work, one of the things that we also have to reconceive is,
for instance: How Sundance as a festival, as an institution, deals with the
'Net. What kind of work we do. How this work is accessible to people. And
the importance that I still think Sundance has in helping develop those
alternatives that I was referring to earlier, helping to develop audiences
-- that I think one doesn't really have to develop, one really only has to
bring them to water.

There's clearly a lot of people out there who are very dissatisfied with
what they're being given -- without condemning other kinds of production.
I've always had a great admiration for what Hollywood does as an industry
and think that it's craft and it's production values are second to nothing
you'll ever see. I love classic Hollywood film and I don't necessarily view
these things in opposition to each other. But I very much feel that what we
do need however is the opportunities for new creative voices to emerge, and
that's what we're all concerned about.

I know you're very concerned about it, and we've continually talked about
how we can help develop that, which will allow those new kinds of
filmmakers, and more than that, the new kind of work that they bring to
bear, to have an opportunity to be seen and more than that have an
opportunity for support. Not to just be made and then never find any kind
of outreach, but to build a cyclical industry in the same way that the
independent industry has built itself up. That's not to say that the
industry we're in has reached any pinnacles of success that it needs to look
back upon and say how proud we are. But I do think that we do ourselves a
disservice by looking at this as simply something that has cycled back to a
point where we were at the beginning. And I really think that the impetuses
of independent film, and even its kind of iconographic power for new
artists, for new filmmakers, is really important. That filmmakers don't sit
here idly. It seems to me that many young filmmakers and filmmakers-to-be
don't sit here trying to dream of themselves being necessarily just the next
Steven Spielberg, but that they now have other models and other kinds of
filmmakers to pattern themselves after or to emulate. And those represent a
much richer and I hope more vital film culture.