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Fewer Films and a New Section for Sundance '10; Competitions Lineup Announced

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire December 2, 2009 at 8:55AM

Change has come to the Sundance Film Festival, America's leading showcase of new independent films and filmmakers. The event's new face will be apparent from the very opening moments of the 2010 Film Festival on January 21, 2010.
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Fewer Films and a New Section for Sundance '10; Competitions Lineup Announced
A scene from "Howl," screening in the Sundance Film Festival dramatic competition. Image provided by the Sundance Film Festival

Change has come to the Sundance Film Festival, America's leading showcase of new independent films and filmmakers. The event's new face will be apparent from the very opening moments of the 2010 Film Festival on January 21, 2010.

Foregoing a traditional opening night film this year, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival will instead kick-off with back to back screenings of films from the event's U.S. dramatic and U.S. documentary competitions, as well as a concurrent showing of a short film program. Organizers told indieWIRE that they wanted to get the competition going as early on in the festival as possible. The films that will screen on opening night are still to be announced, but will likely be higher profile competition titles.

In total, the festival will screen fewer features this year, 113 total (seven fewer than last year), culled from the 3,724 that were submitted (an increase in submissions over last year). 58 films will screen in competition at Sundance 2010, that's a drop from 64 competition films in 2009.

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The lineup for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival:
U.S. Documentary Competition | U.S. Dramatic Competition
World Cinema Documentary Competition | World Cinema Documentary Competition
NEXT | Premieres | New Frontier | Park City at Midnight | Spotlight

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Now under the leadership of festival director John Cooper and program director Trevor Groth, who were promoted to the posts in the wake of the departure of longtime festival head Geoff Gilmore earlier this year, the Sundance fest will see a first wave of changes this year.

"Our selections, in general, were a bit more rigorous than they were in the past," Cooper candidly told indieWIRE, during a telephone conversation earlier this week, citing an even greater focus on artistic excellence.

Thompson On Hollywood has an in-depth look at the upcoming festival.

Among the most talked about moves by organizers was the creation of a new section, NEXT, to showcase lower budget films out of competition. It will include the sort of films that Groth would typically show at his CineVegas festival, which will put the event on hold in 2010 in the wake of the ongoing economic crisis.

"I loved having CineVegas as this place for films that, for whatever reason, didn't make it into the Sundance linuep," Trevor Groth said during the conversation with indieWIRE earlier this week, "I knew that I could give them an excellent launch. Having this NEXT program did help in that regard."

The inaugural lineup for the NEXT section, a total of eight American titles, will be announced tomorrow.

Once a high profile marketplace for new films, the upcoming Sundance Film Festival will arrive with lower expectations on the sales side. In fact, John Cooper said this week that he and his team sequestered themselves from sales and industry pitches for films as it applied stricter standards for inclusion in the lineup.

While those on the sales side will point to higher profile films that could sell at Sundance '10, there's no question that there are more films without stars, like those in the NEXT section, that may have to look to digital outlets or DIY distribution methods to secure some sort of release.

"The industry is in high level evolution and moving fast," Cooper said. "Artistic excellence and originality are the core of how we choose films and we will let the industry decide how it wants to deal with that."

Like the industry, film festivals have faced tough economic times. A number of events have had to cut back, while others have been forced to shut down altogether. But, Sundance is having a strong season, according to organizers. John Cooper said this week that Sundance will likely exceed its sponsorship goals for the festival and is not cutting back. In fact, planners announced an expansion this year -- Sundance Film Festival U.S.A. -- that will take the festival to eight American cities on one night near the end of the 2010 event.

Asked to briefly survey the scope of this year's selections, Cooper spoke of films that explore faith and belief systems and he highlighted titles that explore, "the changing face of America, the diversity that is America." He noted that on the documentary side, filmmakers are embracing "creative techniques to tell true stories" and "moving away from the traditional documentary approaches."

He reiterated that the festival's programmers, Shari Frilot, Caroline Libresco, David Courier, John Nein and new addition Kim Yutani, were in sync this year. "We're more on the same page and in agreement on a higher percentage [of films] than we've ever been," Cooper said, "The team itself is more in agreement."

"I still think our main mission is to provide a platform for the independent film community to support the independent film community in all of its incarnatons: shorts, docs, lower budget, bigger budget," Cooper said, when asked to state the mission of the festival. "Supporting that is still the core. That really hasn't changed and in that we become a filter for people to come and find the best of independent film."

The lineup for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival:
U.S. Documentary Competition | U.S. Dramatic Competition
World Cinema Documentary Competition | World Cinema Documentary Competition
NEXT | Premieres | New Frontier | Park City at Midnight | Spotlight

-- official Sundance Film Festival submission statistics are available on page two --

OFFICIAL 2010 SFF SUBMISSION STATISTICS

2010:
US Narrative Features: 1,058
Int'l Narrative Features: 1,022
US Documentary Features: 862
Int'l Documentary Features: 782
US Short Films: 3,504
Int'l Short Films: 2,588

Total US Features: 1,920
Total Int'l Features: 1,804
Total Narrative Features: 2,080
Total Documentary Features: 1,644
Total Feature Films: 3,724
Total Short Films: 6,092

TOTAL: 9,816


2009:
US Narrative Features: 1,026
International Narrative Features: 1,012
US Documentary Features: 879
International Documentary Features: 744
US Short Films: 3,267
International Short Films: 2,365

Total US Features: 1,905
Total International Features: 1,756
Total Narrative Features: 2,038
Total Documentary Features: 1,623
Total Feature Films: 3,661
Total Short Films: 5,632

TOTAL: 9,293

2008:
US Narrative Features: 1,068
International Narrative Features: 983
US Documentary Features: 953
International Documentary Features: 620
US Short Films: 3,054
International Short Films: 2,053

Total US Features: 2,021
Total International Features: 1,603
Total Narrative Features: 2,051
Total Documentary Features: 1,573
Total Feature Films: 3,624
Total Short Films: 5,107

TOTAL: 8,731


2007:
US Narrative Features: 996
International Narrative Features: 929
US Documentary Features: 856
International Documentary Features: 506
US Short Films: 2,932
International Short Films: 1,513

TOTAL: 7,732


2006:
US Narrative Features: 1,004
International Narrative Features: 836
US Documentary Features: 760
International Documentary Features: 448
US Short Films: 3,011
International Short Films: 1,300

TOTAL: 7,459