The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street, Park City, Utah–a host location for the Sundance Film Festival 2011. Photos by Kathleen Gasperini.

The Sundance Film Festival, a 10-day celebration of indie filmmaking, created by Robert Redford, is well underway in Park City and Salt Lake City, UT, with celebs flocking to the mountain area and media capturing every moment. While this festival has become the most famous on the indie film fest circuit, it deserves the attention for creating an enormous opportunity for new filmmakers and story tellers to get their work created and seen. It’s at Sundance where break-out films can become major hits especially among youth culture, as witnessed last year by “The Runaways” and Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop.

This year, there seemed to be even more emphasis on funding for artists and connection with fans -particularly those not able to attend. Each day, the Sundance site features live streams of various panel discussions, including the latest with Michael Moore and Harry Belafonte, Jr., and others. In order to further connect artists with audiences, Sundance recently announced that they would enter into a 3-year-deal with Kickstarter as a creative funding collaboration, with Facebook to provide guidance to Sundance Institute alumni.

These services act as building blocks for future program components which aim to provide filmmakers access to a broad array of third-party digital distribution platforms. Adding to the nonprofit Institute’s programs for Screenwriters, Directors, Film Composers, Producers and Theatre artists around the world, the new services were developed based on research and input from filmmakers, industry advisors, its Technology Committee and its Board of Directors, including President Robert Redford. The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.

A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects.

“Technology now allows filmmakers to fund and make films in ways we could never have even conceived. Just as we did 30 years ago, the Institute is responding to a need, with a responsibility to help the individual artist,” Redford said.

Kickstarter has agreed to provide branding, educational, and promotional support to Sundance Institute alumni. More than 350,000 people have pledged over $30 million dollars to projects on Kickstarter since its launch in spring 2009.
To launch the collaboration, the first alumni workshops took place at the Sundance Film Festival this week, conducted by Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler and attended by a range of artists from first time filmmakers to seasoned veterans. Beginning this spring, the Institute will curate alumni projects at and drive alumni and fans to support projects in various stages of funding. In addition, will showcase projects and interviews with artists on a monthly basis for even further reach.

In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues. The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.

In terms of top films at this year’s festival, while the winners are yet to be determined, there are many that will surely pop in the next year. “Homework,” for example, featuring Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore is a teen love story that’s attracting attention from distributors already, along with “Like Crazy” featuring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin. “Pariah,” directed by Spike Lee, brings music and drama together, along with a storyline about a butch teenager.

In recent years, it’s been the documentaries at Sundance that have really gained attention and this year that trend continues. On the top of the list is “Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” featuring the 20-year-history of this influential hip-hop band. “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” is another highlight, featuring the journey of a kid in the 70’s who grew up to become part of the Muppeteers. “We Were Here” is another stunning documentary tracing the early 70’s AIDs epidemic in San Francisco. Another ’70’s documentary, “Troubadours,” follows the earlier careers of James Taylor and Carole King. The ’70’s vibe overall has been in full force and as we’ve seen with fashion, coming into many parts of youth culture in general.

Among the Premieres, “Life in a Day” is unique, featuring Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald, who shot an entire documentary in one day, July 24th. Using the support of YouTube, the project enlisted the global community to capture one moment of their lives on camera. 80,000 submissions were received from the most remote corners of the world. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, the final film features the best of these stories.

Shorts and animated 5-minute pieces are also huge parts of Sundance. Many of the movies start with a short or animation, which brings to light the creative talents of many different kinds of artists. For example, our favorite was Das Racist “Who’s That? Brooown!” directed by Thomas De Napoli which ran before the very intense , Mad Max type movie “Bellflower.” The short was a programmed rip-off of old-style PacMan type games, tracing two unlikely heroes as they make their way to perform on stage at a concert.

X-Dance takes place at the same time as Sundance in Salt Lake City, featuring action sports films.

During Sundance, the action sports community also has their own film fest called X-Dance, featuring this year’s best in video documentaries and stories from action sports and other sporting subcultures. Presented by Skullcandy and GoPro, X-Dance included films such as “Look on the Bright Side,” (snowboarding), “Brutal Beauty,” (roller derby), “First Love,” (surfing), and “Like a Lion,” (skiing). X-Dance wrapped up on Tuesday with an awards ceremony and party featuring Ozomatli in Park City.