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Eugene Hernandez’s Journey to Sundance in Photos

The IndieWire co-founder's new role as the director of the Sundance Film Festival has been a long journey to an inevitable destination.

Eugene Hernandez attends his first Sundance in 1993

“It’s poetic, really,” one veteran sales agent told me when the news broke that IndieWire co-founder and New York Film Festival head Eugene Hernandez would be taking over as director of the Sundance Film Festival. That’s one way of putting it; another would be calling it fate. Hernandez, a friend and mentor to many of us, has lived and breathed Sundance DNA for his entire adult life.

The seeds of this site were sown by a fateful 1993 trip to Park City, where Hernandez and college friend Cheri Barner met Mark Rabinowitz. The experiences they had there, at the height of the booming American independent film market, inspired the concept for IndieWire, which they launched as an email newsletter at the festival two years later. In an oral history for IndieWire’s 20th anniversary, Hernandez explained how the communal experience of Sundance motivated his work:

The ability to connect with these filmmakers on their first films was a real inspirational moment for all of these people. We were trying to harness that energy and also be supportive of that community. … As much as film has changed in the ensuing years, what hasn’t changed is the ingenuity of independent filmmakers.

As Hernandez’s profile has grown in that same community, he has remained a perennial friendly face — a rarity in the entertainment business, at every level — as well as an infectious optimist. That combination ability is particularly welcome now, with Sundance returning in January to an in-person event after two virtual pandemic years and the industry struggles for some measure of hope for the future. IndieWire’s first decade was defined by similar uncertainty, in the midst of the digital boom and the early days of streaming, as filmmakers struggled for some clarity. Hernandez’s kind, inquisitive style provided an essential guide to the chaos.

He shepherded NYFF through that same challenge, launching his first year as the festival director in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, when he crafted an innovative blend of outdoor drive-in and online experiences that sustained the brand. He was my chauffeur to opening night as we watched Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock” from the backseat of his car, and he gave his first festival introduction as director while standing on the grass. From a festival standpoint, that period was both post-apocalyptic and inspirational. Yes, the fragile landscape of festival curation already faced major existential questions. At the same time, we were there, the movies were screening, the filmmakers were creating wonderful work. The ability to support that outcome could not be more suited to the present moment, as Sundance prepares for its 40th edition and the film community needs its support more than ever.

Ahead of today’s news, Hernandez shared these photos from his earlier experiences at the festival.

IndieWire founders Eugene Hernandez, Cheri Barner and Mark Rabinowitz at Sundance in 1996

Randall Michelson

 

Early IndieWire Sundance coverage (or indieWIRE, as it was known then)

 

Hernandez moderating a Slamdance panel that includes Christopher Nolan (far right) in 1998

 

Hernandez with filmmaker Sarah Jacobson

Daniel Craig at Sundance with “Layer Cake” in 2003

Ryan Coogler on Hernandez’s “Daily Buzz” radio show at Sundance in 2013

Chloe Sevigny and James St. James at Sundance in 2003

Sales agent John Sloss and Gary Winnick

 

Future Netflix co-CEO and content chief Ted Sarandos and former Academy CEO Dawn Hudson

 

IndieWire’s Sundance condo and official transport in the early days

 

Hernandez with producer Diane Becker and Mark Rabinowitz at Sundance 2000

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