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7 fascinating facts about the Sundance Film Festival

7 fascinating facts about the Sundance Film Festival

(Zoran Zeremski/

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Every year, tens of thousands of people flock to Park City for the world-famous Sundance Film Festival. Some are devout moviegoers who are hoping to catch the first glimpse of the next great independent film. Others simply want a chance to peep a few Hollywood A-listers who might be in town.

The festival has been a creative outlet for many under-the-radar artists for several decades and put Park City on the map long before the 2002 Olympics entered the scene. But how much do you know about this yearly, independent gathering? The following facts may surprise you.

Robert Redford didn't start it

Most people hear "Sundance" and automatically think it's the brainchild of Robert Redford since those two names have become virtually synonymous. But you might be surprised to learn that Redford wasn't actually the instigator of the Sundance Film Festival. Instead, that credit goes to Sterling Van Wagenen and John Earle in 1978.

Originally called the Utah/U.S. Film Festival, the Salt Lake-based event was meant to encourage independent filmmaking and provide some exposure for Utah. Van Wagenen would later bring his cousin's husband — Robert Redford — on board as chairman. The location eventually moved to Park City in 1980 and became known as the Sundance Film Festival in 1990, according to Britannica.

Attendance numbers broke records in 2021

With nearly 50,000 yearly attendees, the Sundance Film Festival remains one of the biggest independent film festivals in the U.S. Due to the pandemic, the festival went virtual for a couple of years and experienced its biggest audience yet. Between the screenings and other events, Herb Scribner of the Deseret News reported there were more than 600,000 total views for 2021 — which was 168% higher than in 2020.

Some big names got their start at the festival

You've probably heard of Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh, but you might not realize that each of their careers jump-started at Sundance. According to Britannica, popular films launched at the festival as well. These include "A Streetcar Named Desire," the 2022 Oscar-winning film "CODA" and, of course, the cult classic "Napoleon Dynamite," among many others.

It's not just about films

If you're one of the lucky tens of thousands to attend the yearly festival, movie-watching isn't your only option for entertainment. Britannica notes that aside from screening films, the festival also hosts panel discussions, workshops, musical events and parties. These are for both industry insiders and the general public, so it might give you a chance to cross paths with some famous faces.

This Sundance film became the first western-made movie to air on North Korean TV

Here's a fun fact for soccer lovers. NBC News reported that the Sundance film "Bend it Like Beckham" became the first western-made movie to air on North Korean TV back in 2010. The whole event was arranged by the British Embassy and broadcast on Dec. 26 of that year. Since western films are largely banned in North Korea, this was a rare treat — even if the movie was edited down to just one hour.

You can submit your work for consideration

Do you think you've got the chops to be the next Spielberg? Or maybe you just have a single passion project you want to share with the world? Your work — yes, yours — could be featured at the Sundance Film Festival someday. Virtually anyone can submit their projects for consideration, which is great news for any aspiring filmmakers who might not get any recognition otherwise. But this is also a double-edged sword because the open submissions mean you'll be competing with thousands of other applicants.

Along with other tips, Kristine Hamlett shares on the Adobe blog that you only get one shot with each project, so you don't want to rush a submission prematurely.

"Put in the work to ensure that your film is polished — and a world premiere. Sundance prides itself for being a venue for people to discover films," Hamlett writes.

Most films get a distribution deal

Now here's the good news. Having your film screened at Sundance may be a long shot, but once you get there, there's a very good chance that you could score a distribution deal. No Film School reports that about 80% of films screened at Sundance wind up with a distribution deal.

Get your tickets online

Even if you're not an aspiring artist or filmmaker, a trip to the Sundance Film Festival is a worthy bucket list item since it's "the ultimate gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives." The 2023 festival will take place Jan. 19–29, both in person and online. Get your tickets today and you might be among the lucky few to witness the emergence of the next great film or star firsthand.

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