Film Industry

Sundance Film Festival Guide: What Is Sundance Festival?

Photograph of the blog post author, Connor Brown

Connor Brown

12.5.2021

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Are you an avid film nut? Or a casual Netflix indulger? Maybe even an industry professional or a filmmaker yourself? If you love films, then the Sundance film festival is something for you!

sundance film festival sign

Even if you’re not completely film-obsessed, you’re not going to want to miss this. With approximately 120,000 people attending a year, it’s the largest independent film festival in the United States.

So, let’s indulge ourselves on the facts a bit…

What Is The Sundance Film Festival?

sundance film festival sign

The Sundance Film Festival is managed and run by the Sundance Institute. It is a yearly independent film festival that takes place in Park City, Utah.

The festival lasts a week and premieres unreleased films for the public and critics to view months before anyone else. As well as distribution executives looking to buy said films. The institute presents the awards on the last day.

When Is The Sundance Film Festival?

when is sundance film festival utah snowy in winter

The Sundance Film Fest is held during the snowy months of Utah, towards the end of January and ending normally just before or after February. So, make sure you wrap up warm if you plan on attending!

The Sundance Festival typically lasts a whole week – Sundance 2021 took place from the 23rd of January to the 30th of January.

Where Is The Sundance Film Festival?

sundance film festival street with snow and lights

Typically, the Sundance Movie Festival takes place in Park City, Utah, Salt Lake City at the Sundance Resort most years.

However, in the case of the Sundance Film Festival 2021, this gathering happened online and around the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, you can always check the website for more information on where it will take place for the current year.

Where Do I Get Tickets To The Sundance Film Festival?

hands holding sundance film festival tickets

To get tickets, there’s a couple of options.

Firstly, there’s registering to buy tickets in advance on the Sundance website. This is by far the easiest and best way to go about it. But it’s always good to apply way before the festival begins, typically sometime around autumn is a good bet.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive an email telling you when your window is to buy advanced admission tickets. We recommend that you grab two or three tickets for different shows a day. So you don’t end up waiting in line and you have time to grab a bite to eat in between showings.

Speaking of queues, the second option would be to just show up and get your tickets on the day. However, we strongly advise against this. This is due to the fact that the wait times can be hours. Additionally, there is a high chance the seats will all be booked before you even get a chance to purchase a ticket. This is because they want to make sure every viewing is fully booked, as this helps the news spread.

If you’re an early bird, at 8 AM every day during the Sundance Film Fest, they open the box office. Here they sell unsold tickets for the day’s shows. Therefore, it’s best to get there a bit earlier to ensure you’re first in line!

However, you can also get lucky and find people selling the tickets they’re not going to use just outside or around nearby. If you choose this option, it’s best to keep your wits about you as there’s always a potential for fakes, so we wouldn’t advise it.

How Much Do Tickets To The Sundance Film Fest Cost?

buying tickets

A single film ticket will cost you $15, which is for either a premiere or on demand-screening. For $25 you can obtain the ‘Explorer pass’. This pass will give you access to Indie short films and indie series’ on-demand for the duration of the festival.

Furthermore, you can buy a day ticket for $75. This will give you a full day’s access to premieres, on-demand screenings as well as on-demand access to indie shorts and series. This is a brilliant option for anyone wanting to binge watch the whole day away. Since you can easily get your money’s worth. However, this ticket is unavailable for the opening night. So keep that in mind!

With $100, you can get an ‘Award Winners Pass’. This means you have access to every audience and jury award-winning films after they’ve been announced on the final day of the Sundance Festival. However, they’ll only be available to watch on-demand for one day. 

For the hefty amount of $350, you can get yourself a ‘Festival Pass’, for unlimited access to premieres and on-demand screenings, the perks of the ‘Award Winners Pass’ and on-demand access to Sundance Festivals indie short films and indie series. This would be the perfect ticket if you want to make the utmost of your whole experience, especially if you’re movie mad!

People with all-access passes will be guaranteed seats to the premieres, however, general passholders have to choose which movies they’d want to watch prior to the showing to guarantee they’ll get a seat.

It’s also good to note that tickets are unavailable for purchase on the night of the award ceremony when the Sundance Film Festival winners are announced, so keep that in mind. These prices are all based on Sundance Film Fest’s experience for last year, so things could change.

Sundance Film Festival Awards

sundance film festival winner holding awards

The award ceremony at the Sundance Movie Festival can be life-changing. Giving little-known indie filmmakers the opportunity to bring attention to their impactful stories that might otherwise be missed by wider audiences.

On the last day, the Institute gives out awards to Sundance Film Festival movies. Film’s in both the dramatic and the documentary competition categories are judged by the jury. With a variety of prestigious awards up for grabs. This Jury panel is composed of individuals with diverse and original points of view. Each comes from the background of the worldwide film community.

U.S. Grand Jury Prizes

This is a ranking given by the juries. Which recognises films in the U.S. Dramatic and U.S. Documentary competitions as being the best independent films from their sector. This year’s winners were:

  • U.S. Dramatic film: ‘CODA’ by Siân Heder
  • U.S. Documentary: ‘Summer of Soul’ by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

There are also the World Cinema winners. The Grand Jury prizes being the highest award possible for independent films. These are produced outside the U.S., The winners this year were:

  • Dramatic film: ‘Hive’ by Blerta Basholli
  • Documentary: ‘Flee’ by Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Special Jury Awards

Each year at the Sundance Film Fest, Jurors give special awards when recognising excellence in the craft of filmmaking. These can be different each year, chosen by specific juries as they see fit. Additionally, the ‘Art of Film’ weekend inspired these awards to come to fruition.

In this category, there is also the Waldo Salt Excellence in Screenwriting Award that is up for grabs to any U.S. dramatic film that deserves it. The awards and their respective winners this year were:

  • Emerging Filmmaker: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt for their documentary ‘Cusp’
  • Non-Fiction Experimentation: Theo Anthony for their documentary ‘All light, everywhere’
  • U.S. Dramatic Best Ensemble: The cast of ‘CODA’
  • The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: The U.S. dramatic film ‘On the Count of Three’, by Ari katcher and Ryan Welch

This category also includes a separate section for world cinema. The winners were:

  • Award for Creative Vision: The dramatic film ‘One for the Road’ by Baz Poonpiriya
  • Award for Impact For Change: The documentary ‘Writing with Fire’ by Sushmit Ghosh

Directing Awards

The directing awards are honorable mentions to directors in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary categories. As well as the World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary categories.

This year’s winners for the U.S. category were:

  • U.S. Dramatic film: Siân Heder for her film ‘CODA’
  • U.S. Documentary: Natalia alamada for her documentary ‘Users’

And the winner in the world cinema category was Blerta Basholli, for their dramatic film entry, ‘Hive’.

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The Sundance Film Festival Audience Awards

Festival-goers get to choose these awards. They vote through a ballot which they cast after the theater’s screenings. Audience awards are given to films in the U.S. dramatic, U.S. documentary, World Cinema dramatic, World Cinema Documentary and NEXT categories. NEXT awards are presented by Adobe. Additionally, This year the audience awards were sponsored by ‘Acura’, the winners were:

  • U.S. Dramatic: ‘CODA’
  • U.S. Documentary: ‘Summer of Soul’
  • World Cinema Dramatic: ‘Hive’
  • World Cinema Documentary: ‘Sabaya’ by Higor Hirori

The winners of the NEXT awards were:

  • NEXT Audience Award: Marion Hill for her dramatic film ‘My belle, my beauty’
  • NEXT Innovator Award: Dash Shaw (Director), Jane Samborski (Animation Director) for their dramatic film ‘Cryptozoo’

Sundance Institute Awards

These rewards were created to help support the next generation of emerging filmmakers and directors. Such as Amazon Studios Producers and Adobe Mentorship Producers. This year’s winners were:

  • Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Features: Natalie Qasabian for her dramatic film ‘Run’
  • Amazon Studios Producers Award for Documentary Features: Nicole Salazar for her documentary ‘Philly D.A.’
  • Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction: Terilyn Shropshire
  • Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Non-Fiction: Juli Vizza

The NHK award was created to promote cultural exchanges through finding and supporting emerging filmmakers. The winner for this award was Meryam Joobeur for her dramatic film ‘Motherhood’.

There is also the ‘Jonathan Oppenheim’ editing award. Which was given to Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno for their work in the film ‘Homeroom’, directed by Peter Nicks.

The Festival Favourite Award is an opportunity for every feature film that is presented at the Sundance Film Fest. It is determined by audience ballots across all festival screenings. This award is similar to the audience awards, however, whichever feature film best connects with audiences, wins.

Lastly, we have the ‘Alfred P. Sloan’ Feature Film Prize. Which is given by the juries for and presented to the director and writer of an outstanding film, with the main theme focused on technology and science. Or a film depicting a scientist, mathematician or engineer as a major role. Additionally, the winner receives a cash prize, backed by the foundation and the Sundance Institute. This year the prize went to Alexis Gambis for the film ‘Son of Monarchs’.

Sundance Film Festival Submissions

cinema with big screen and audience

Say you’re a filmmaker yourself and interested in submitting a movie to the Sundance Film Festival. You can do so on their website, where you can also find the subsequent FAQ plus rules and regulations.

Submissions are open in May 2021, but the Institute announces an exact date closer to the month. If you’re submitting a project, you’ll have to pay a fee. This varies on whether the project is a feature film:

  • Early submissions at $65 (Deadline of August 13th)
  • Official submissions at $85 (Deadline of September 6th)
  • Late submissions at $110 (Deadline of September 27th)

Or a short film or an episodic project:

  • Early submissions at $40 (Deadline of August 6th)
  • Official submissions at $60 (Deadline of August 23rd)
  • Late submissions at $80 (Deadline of September 13th)

On the site whilst submitting a project, you will also be required to state which category you’re applying for. International submissions are available as well and fall under the World Cinema category. Once you’ve submitted your project, all you need to do is wait for confirmation on whether or not they want to use it as part of the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Film Festival Schedule

sundance film festival panel

The Sundance Film Fest takes place over a week, the first is filled with all the most anticipated films, documentaries, shorts films, etc.

This includes talks and events. The days following are the same, but they show off all the other submitted projects. On the final day, they hold the award ceremony.

Sundance Film Festival Winners

summer of soul questlove cover art sundance

The Sundance Film Fest has brought a lot of incredible movies into the spotlight, you’ve probably seen one yourself!

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the most notable winners.

Hive

Directed by Blerta Basholli, this is a Kosovo drama which features a woman by the name of Fahrije (who’s husband is missing). She goes against misogynistic societal norms to become an entrepreneur.

This film broke records for being the first-ever to take home all three main awards. Furthermore, it won the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award, and the Directing Award in the World Cinema Dramatic category. 

CODA

Directed by Siân Heder, CODA is a story about a hearing teenage girl, who has deaf parents.

Apple Studios bought the film for an extremely impressive, record-breaking $25 million, and took home the U.S. Grand Jury and Audience Prizes in the Dramatic category.

Summer Of Soul

This is a U.S. documentary, directed by Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, known professionally as just ‘Questlove’.

It documents the Harlem cultural festival in the summer of ‘69, winning itself a respectable two awards, the U.S. Documentary Audience and Grand Jury Prizes.

Flee

Finally, Flee is an animated film, directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. Which won the grand jury prize in the World Cinema Documentary category.

It follows the story of a man named Amin, who for the first time opens up about his hidden past of him fleeing his country. 

That Was Our Guide On The Sundance Film Festival

sundance film festival at the egyptian at dusk

So, that concludes our guide to the Sundance Film Festival! We hope you’ve got a better understanding of the movie festival and all it has to offer.

If you do go, make sure to make the most of this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be it if you’re a casual movie lover, filmmaker, or an industry professional, we’re positive the Sundance Film Festival has something for everyone!

Have you ever been to the Sundance Film Festival? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you!

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