I have seen the majority of the short films selected for the 2016 Sundance Film festival and it isn’t because I traveled to Utah for the festival. Many of the shorts in their lineup are already available to people through Vimeo and Youtube allowing audiences around the world to actively engage with the festival virtually. Sundance has paved the way for many festivals, being a pioneer by embracing the submission of films that are already available online.
For years, filmmakers have been discouraged from uploading their films online if they want to be in with a chance of getting into a festival. But Short of the Week has a frequently updated page on their site which keeps filmmakers up to date with the changing landscape of film festival submissions. When I checked in January 2016, 2/3 of the ‘Top Film Festivals’ now accept films available online.
Although festivals are changing their policies, there is still a stigma attached to ‘successful’ online films, which are regarded to be ‘viral’. Festivals, aiming to maintain a sense of exclusivity and mystery, are turned off from showing these films. Festivals should be about showcasing new talent and engaging audiences, if a dialogue around the film is happening online it is for a reason. This reason may be a controversial central topic or, which is often the case, just a unique example of story telling. It is a real shame filmmakers still face a dilemma when it comes to what to do with their film once it has been created. Why must filmmakers compromise between getting into a prestigious festival and attracting online audiences?
This is why what Sundance (and other forward thinking festivals such as SXSW and Uppsala International Short Film Festival) are doing to change things is important. Sundance’s aim is ‘actively advance the work of independent storytellers in film and theatre’ and allowing a wider audience to engage with the festival virtually means Sundance are doing just that.