When Richard Linklater took the stage for the second time at the Golden Globes last night, he turned the microphone over the IFC Films’ Jonathan Sehring, who agreed to finance the project 14 years ago. Linklater called Sehring’s decision “the biggest leap of faith in film history.” Leave it to the director to summarize his movie’s unique appeal: The gimmick of “Boyhood” made it stand out; but it’s Linklater’s high-wire act of extrapolating artistry from the experience that makes it such a thrilling, next level experience. How can anyone follow that?
Sehring’s onstage presence at the Globes was a keen reminder of the anomaly that “Boyhood” presents in the heat of awards season fervor. Unlike more traditional contenders such as “The Imitation Game” or even “Birdman,” Linklater’s movie would never come anywhere close to being a part of this conversation if it hadn’t erupted with such great acclaim at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
It was a unique gamble engineered firmly within the confines of the American independent film community starting 2002, the same year that IFC Films was feeling flush from the success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The ultimate success of “Boyhood” epitomizes the value of elaborate risk-taking that can only take place outside Hollywood and within the more pliable arena of the independent marketplace.
So here comes the 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and the bar has been considerably raised.
While it would be both premature and unfair to look for the next “Boyhood” among this year’s 103 world premieres, the movie’s ongoing popularity sends a message ahead of the big event: Rather than offering an alternative to mainstream product, there’s room for daring, original filmmaking projects to take the center stage. In the next several weeks, festivals in Rotterdam and Berlin will unveil a ton of global cinema worth singling out. But in the United States, only Sundance kicks off the year by presenting its selections to a large number of industry professionals with the power to bring their discoveries to American audiences. With the constantly shifting variables of theatrical’s uncertain future and VOD options growing more sophisticated each day, they face increasing pressure to offer something completely different.
So where do they begin? We’re here to help.
Over the course of the next week, we’ll be digging into this year’s Sundance lineup to explore some of the potentially noteworthy movies in this year’s selection. Aided by the participants in this year’s Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Fellowship For Film Criticism, we’ll single out some of the buzz-worthy titles and potent themes found throughout the program. Of course, part of the thrill of the festival circuit involves the possibility that some major gem could show up out of nowhere — much like “Boyhood” did last year — so any attempt to offer a definitive rundown of Sundance’s highlights in advance of the event itself would be a lost cause.
But we plan to get the conversation started, because if “Boyhood” proves anything, it’s that great movies stick around long after the festival fervor ends. For years, awards season has grown increasingly kind to independent product for that exact reason — quality requires more of a gamble than a commitment to the bottom line. And if Sundance can continue to feed that niche, everybody wins.