Cultural Weekly's Sundance Infographic
Eager filmmakers, journalists, and fans
from around the world are now in Park City, Utah, for this country's best known
film festival: Sundance. A testament to
the commitment of Robert Redford and long the launching pad for independent
films, Sundance also marks an unofficial start to the New Year for film, and provides
clear proof of the medium’s popularity.
It also has set off a debate about whether the profusion of filmmaking
(or at least of films shoe-horning their way into theaters) is a positive
The New York Times'
critic Manohla Dargis argues that it is not; her recent piece
has sparked both agreement and outrage. (We
found responses by Anne
to be particularly valuable.) But as film producers and founders of
SnagFilms – a digital platform dedicated to bringing great films and journalism
to fans and the industry – we think Ms. Dargis’s criticism and some of the ensuing
conversation largely misses the point.
In a society where images now have
a greater cultural impact than words, the number of aspiring independent
filmmakers continues to grow. Sundance
have grown from 9816 in four years ago to 12,218 this year,
while the number of acceptances has stayed flat; Ted Leonsis has pointed out
that it is easier for your child to be accepted at Harvard than for your film to
be selected for Sundance.
Clearly, more films don’t necessarily mean better films. Manohla Dargis takes this argument a step
further, asserting, "There are too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain
bad movies" for audiences to sift through. Ms. Dargis proposes that fewer films
should be bought and theatrically released, and inferentially at least, that
fewer films should be made. Here, Ms.
Dargis is like the legendary King Canute, trying to order back the tide. The wave of films made each year will
continue to rise; the real challenge that the industry now faces is how to connect
each film to its maximum interested audience.
Ms. Dargis proposes three arguments. First,
she believes that the New York Times's policy
of reviewing all New York theatrical openings wastes critics' time on mediocre
films. She then argues that the majority
of the 900 films reviewed in 2013 should not have been released in theaters,
but instead should have gone straight to on-demand services where they likely will
earn the majority of their revenue.
Finally, Ms. Dargis argues that the poor theatrical performances of
independent films prove market oversaturation, and that the studios have
inevitably gobbled up the best of the indie lot.
We think Ms. Dargis is peering
through the wrong end of the telescope.
She overlooks the inevitability that more films will continue to be
released due to three factors. First,
both cameras and editing software will follow Moore's Law, and become
increasingly sophisticated and relentlessly less expensive, allowing an easier
path for more people to become visual storytellers. Second, that process is accelerating
globally, and the various factors shrinking our world also mean that audiences
are increasingly welcoming content made well beyond one's home country's
borders – a global audience that filmmakers can reach via the web in seconds.
It is no wonder that at this years Sundance
Festival, there were more international film entries for the feature film
competition than from the U.S. And third, the moving image dominates modern
culture. We live in a society where more time is spent viewing
than reading, and there
is a belief that anyone can make a movie
. Technology has made that belief