Film Festival The Do’s and Don’ts of Submitting to Sundance

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The “overnight success story out of Sundance” is one of the most alluring career narratives in all of independent cinema. It’s an enduring and popular myth that just so happens to be true—or at least true enough of the time that young filmmakers still dream of using Sundance to become the next Wes Anderson or Karyn Kusama. But the first step is to actually get your film in. Which, easier said than done. But it’s film streaming this site.

Founded as the US Film Festival in 1978 by Hollywood icon Robert Redford, the swiftly rechristened Sundance Film Festival quickly became ground zero for discovering and developing a diverse cross-section of new films and filmmakers. But the Festival didn’t stumble its way into such prominence by happenstance. Sundance’s perennially innovative and influential film slates are the result of a careful and exacting programming process film in web gratis.

Year after year, the Sundance programming team wades through thousands upon thousands of submissions to select just over 100 films, and it’s important to understand how the process actually works. Luckily, the in’s and out’s of submitting to Sundance were the subject of a Film Independent education panel featuring first-person insight from Sundance programmers.

Who opened the panel by asking the programmers to outline just how many submissions they receive each year.

Zwicker quoted approximately 4,000 total submissions for feature films, and Barrera 9,000 for shorts. Of these, only 120 or so features make it in each year, and about 60-70 shorts. “Less than one percent,” notes Barrera. So that’s arguably the bad news.

The good news? The programmers were emphatic that each and every film submitted is watched in its entirety. Even the worst film Zwicker ever screened—which, according to her, included “a lot of masturbation and poop-eating”—was watched through to the bitter end. Even in these direst of poop-eating circumstances, programmers are marshaled onward by the promise of discovering something great. As Zwicker said, “You trust yourself that no matter how tired you are, the next film you put in could give you a special feeling.

Sundance has a team of 10 full-time programmers; each with a specific focus or expertise tied to the festival’s different competition and exhibition categories. Zwicker’s beat it is international film, while Barrera’s is shorts. “All year long, we watch everything,” said Barrera of her nine-person shorts team.

But while shorts submissions are given a “first watch” by the programming team itself, feature categories employ the use of screeners, who give feature submissions a first watch and narrow down their favorites to forward on to the programmers. “We reevaluate our screeners each year,” said Zwicker of these all-important gatekeepers, “we need to have that trust.

Ultimately, final film line-ups are created an eye towards balance and diversity, and inevitably good movies are sometimes squeezed out.

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