The Sundance Film Festival

Annually organized by The Sundance Institute, Sundance film festival is the largest stand-alone film festival in the U.S. It takes place each January in Park City, Utah, Salt Lake City, and at the Sundance Resort. It includes various genres of movie-making, documentary and dramatic films, including feature-length and short films. The festival also has a segment where awards are presented for excellent performances, as well as other categories for showcasing new movies that are not a part of the competition.

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival commenced January 24 and extended till February 3. The 2020 event will begin on January 23 and will last till February 2, 2020.

1978: Utah/US Film Festival

Sundance commenced in Salt Lake City in August 1978 with the name of the Utah/US Film Festival, intending to drive more filmmakers to Utah. It came into being by Sterling Van Wagenen (then head of Wildwood, Robert Redford’s Company) and John Earle (working on the Utah Film Commission at the time). The 1978 festival screened films such as Deliverance, A Streetcar Named Desire, Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, and The Sweet Smell of Success.

The festival aimed to strictly display American-made films, focus on the potential of independent filmmaking, and to enhance visibility for filmmaking in Utah. The jury of the 1978 festival was led by Gary Allison and also comprised of Linwood G. Dunn, Verna Fields, Katharine Ross, Charles E. Sellier Jr., Mark Rydell, and Anthea Sylbert.

1981: US Film and Video Festival

In 1981, the festival shifted to Park City, Utah, and altered the dates from September to January. Led by the Executive Director Susan Barrell with the assistance of Hollywood Director Sydney Pollack, the move from late summer to midwinter was an attempt to draw more attention from Hollywood by organizing a film festival in a ski resort during winter. It came to be known as the US Film and Video Festival.

1984: Sundance Festival

In 1984, the now well-published Sundance Institute, led by Sterling Van Wagenen, took over the US Film Festival. Gary Beer and Van Wagenen led the production of the inaugural US Film Festival organized by Sundance Institute (1985). It included Program Director Tony Safford and Administrative Director Jenny Walz Selby.

Sundance London (2012 And Onwards)

UK-based publisher C21 Media initially disclosed in October 2010 that Robert Redford was planning to bring the Sundance Film Festival to London and in March the year after, Redford Publicly proclaimed that the Sundance London would be organized at The O2 in London from 26–29 April 2012. It was the first time that the festival would have been outside the US ever. The major part of the film screenings, inclusive of the festival’s premieres, would take place in the Cineworld theatre at The O2 entertainment district.

The 2013 Sundance London Festival took place within 25-28 April 2013 and was sponsored by the renowned car-makers Jaguar. Sundance London 2014 was conducted on 25–27 April 2014 at the O2 arena; however, the 2015 festival was canceled in an official statement published on 16 January 2015. Films shown at the 2019 event listed the debatable dark tale The Nightingale, Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell (which won the Audience Award), US comedy Corporate Animals, and Sophie Hyde‘s movie based on Emma Jane Unsworth‘s book about female friendship, Animals.

Sundance Hong Kong

Officially commencing in 2014, Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong took place in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The next event was scheduled to screen from 19 September to 1 October 2019. The ceremony takes place at The Metroplex in Kowloon Bay, annually.

Sundance at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

From 2006 till 2008, Sundance Institute corresponded with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on a unique series of film screenings, discussions, programs, and special events drawing the institute’s activities and the festival’s programming to New York City.


Many recognized independent filmmakers achieved their big break at Sundance, including Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Todd Field, David O. Russell, Edward Burns, Steve James, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, James Wan, and Jim Jarmusch.

The festival is also known for drawing good attention to such films as Saw, Garden State, Super Troopers, The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs, Spanking the Monkey, Primer, Thank You for Smoking, In the Bedroom, Better Luck Tomorrow, Napoleon Dynamite, The Brothers McMullen, Donnie Darko, El Mariachi, Moon, Clerks, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Little Miss Sunshine, (500) Days of Summer, Whiplash, Boyhood, and Get Out.

the poster for Sundance festival conducted in 2010

Growth of the Festival

The festival has progressed over the decades from a low-profile place for small-budget, independent creators from outside the Hollywood to an extreme environment for the Hollywood celebrity actors, paparazzi, and exquisite lounges run by companies not affiliated with Sundance. Festival Management has tried controlling these activities lately, commencing in the year 2007 with their current Focus on Film campaign.

The 2009 film Official Rejection depicts the feelings of small filmmakers trying to get into various festivals in the late 2000s, including Sundance. The film contained numerous dialogues focused on how Sundance has become dominated by large studios and sponsoring companies. A comparison was conducted between the 1990s, in which small filmmakers with small budget films could easily avail distribution deals from studios like Miramax Films or New Line Cinema, (like Kevin Smith‘s Clerks), and the 2000s, when big stars with multimillion-dollar films (for example, The Butterfly Effect with Ashton Kutcher) were all over the festival. Kevin Smith doubted that ‘Clerks’ would be screened at Sundance, if made in the late 2000s.

Numerous trivial festivals sprung up around Sundance in the Park City area, including X-Dance, Nodance, Lapdance, Slamdance, It-dance, Tromadance, The Park City Film Music Festival, etc. However, today only Slamdance continues.

the Sundance festival poster for 2020

Changes were made in the 2010 Sundance festival when a new scheduling category titled “NEXT” (often represented simply by the characters “<=>,” which implies “less is more”) was initiated to display innovative films that can transcend the limitations of an independent budget. Another innovation was the addition of the Sundance Film Festival USA program, which screens eight of the festival’s films in eight different theaters around the United States.


Geoff Gilmore served as the Director from 1991-2009. He was succeeded by John Cooper, who took office from 2009 and stays current in office.


The Sundance Film Festival has become the pinnacle gathering of original storytellers and audiences looking for new voices and different perspectives. Each year, Sundance brings filmmakers and performers to join together and celebrate the excellence of filmmaking locally and internationally.