Why Do We Need Film Festivals? A Look at Sundance Film Festival
With the 16th edition of CinemAsia swiftly approaching, we want to look at the history of film festivals and highlight their importance for independent filmmakers around the world. One of the most prominent events in the industry is Sundance Film Festival, the biggest independent film festival in the United States. Since the beginning, the goal of Sundance remains the same: to emphasize the potential of independent films that escaped the mainstream conventions and presented something different to the viewer.
Sundance is a celebration of independent film and fantastic filmmakers who have the opportunity to showcase their works to a larger audience. This year’s edition has once again introduced cinema enthusiasts to a great selection of Asian films.
DÌDI (dir. Sean Wang, US)
This film by the Academy Award nominated director Sean Wang, has swept two prestigious Sundance awards: the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble as well as the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic. Dìdi was appreciated by the jury for its uniquely moving work of the cast, who, despite their differences, presented a harmonious story about the joys of teenage life.
GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (dir. Shuchi Talati, India, France, US, Norway)
The story follows Mira, a 16-year-old girl who attends a boarding school in the Himalayas who has begun the journey to self-discovery and her desires. This complex production has enchanted the jury with its delicate and vulnerable approach to young female sexuality.
The film has won both the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic as well as the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting.
NOCTURNES (dir. Anirban Dutta and Anupama Srinivasan, India, US)
The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Craft has been granted to Nocturnes, an Indian-American production, in which the sounds and images play the main role. This enticing documentary places the viewer in the middle of mysterious Himalayan forests where thousands of moths are the center of attention.
From the Shorts Programme, two shorts have been recognized by the Sundance jury:
THE STAG (dir. An Chu, Taiwan)
Grasping the viewer’s curiosity from the very beginning, The Stag tells a compelling story of a father who does everything he can for his children. An Chu’s brilliance was awarded not only at Sundance with the Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction, but also at the 60th Golden Horse Film Festival, where it received a nomination for Best Live Action Short Film.
PISKO THE CRAB CHILD IS IN LOVE (dir. Makoto Nagahisa, Japan)
In this short film Pisko goes through both infatuation and heartbreak, but her story is not like other cliche romances. This lovingly absurd half-crab tale stole the jury’s hearts completely and received the Short Film Special Jury Prize for Directing.
CinemAsia Film Festival
The festival is an important platform for independent films, mainly because of the recognition they receive after their premieres. Some of the Sundance debuts have also been screened at CinemAsia Film Festival:
LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE (2022, Philippines) was showcased at the 15th edition of CinemAsia in 2023. It won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Innovative Spirit at Sundance 2022.
The same edition of CinemAsia welcomed ALL THAT BREATHES (2022, India, USA, UK) which won World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary Competition at Sundance 2022.
The film had a screening at the Cannes Film Festival in the special screening section, where it won the Golden Eye. It was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film.
During the 3rd edition of CinemAsia, DARK MATTER (2007, US) has captured the hearts of both audiences, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance 2007.
In 2006 Yang Yong-hi made her debut at Sundance with DEAR PYONGYANG (2005, Japan), where it won the World Cinema Special Jury Prize Documentary. Her fantastic film screened at the 2nd edition of CinemAsia in 2006.
Yang’s production, OUR HOMELAND (2012) was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.
Lastly, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (2002, US) was showcased at the very first edition of CinemAsia in 2004. Its premiere at the 2002 edition of Sundance Film Festival has opened many possibilities for this production. After the festival debut the film was acquired by MTV Films.
The film’s director, Justin Lin, is now most known for his work on the Fast & Furious franchise.
One of the most notable productions which have gained recognition after Sundance is the 2020 film MINARI. The film had its world premiere at Sundance 2020. There, it won the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and US Dramatic Audience Award.
Minari won 122 awards, including one Academy Award for Youn Yuh-jung for Best Supporting Actress in 2021. It received 245 nominations, including 6 nominations for Academy Awards in 2021.
The director, Lee Isaac Chung went on to direct an episode in the third season of the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, after gaining worldwide fame following Minari’s success.
Steven Yeun, who played the leading role in Minari, has become one of the most acclaimed Asian American actors. His role in Lee’s film has led him to become the very first Asian American actor to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
The most recent production starring Steven Yeun, LOVE ME (2024), has won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance 2024!
To read more about Yeun’s work, see the CinemAsia article about BEEF: https://cinemasia.nl/en/2024/01/25/beef-the-secret-to-the-success-of-the-award-sweeping-show/.
Film festivals are, without a doubt, the heart of the industry, but they also create a place for cinema lovers, filmmakers, judges and artists to take a closer look at the pieces they have created. Sundance has been, and still is, a vehicle for independent creators to showcase their works and for them to be acknowledged, recognized and awarded. Many of the films screened at Sundance have gone to receive trophies such as Academy Awards, BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards and many others.
Our mission at CinemAsia is the same: to support directors, writers, actors, producers and people within the film industry so that they can soar. The 2024 edition of our festival will present some of the finest films and the full program and tickets can be found here.
Author: Julia Kobielska