“Heartbreaking,” “disappointed,” “overwhelming” – these are just a few of the ways the filmmakers have described the news that the 2022 Sundance Film Festival is going fully virtual for the second year in a row. While many producers, directors and sales agents relied on in-person presentations to elevate their premieres in the bustling environment of Park City, the switch to online-only mode has been particularly painful for filmmakers and arty salespeople, cinematic or more difficult films that can get lost in the middle of the festival Netflixification.
“It’s a bummer,” admits Sam Green, director of the opening night film 32 soundswhich is described as a “Live Cinema” documentary to be shown simultaneously at the Park City Egyptian Theater and online. “The best way for people to see the film and sell it is to attend a packed screening at the Egyptian,” says Green, who notes that the film has capital investors looking to recover and ICM represents the project for sales. “It’s hard to replace that with ‘Hey, I’ll send you a link.'”
For Green, who enjoys communicating with a live audience as he did with his documentary Kronos Quartet A thousand thoughtswhich has toured performance spaces, he now tries to keep hope that the new work, a collection of 32 audio experiences, will resonate with new media companies embarking on spatial sound experiences such as Apple. and Amazon.
Jason Ishikawa, senior executive at sales company Cinetic Media, also agrees that online screenings are “not an ideal experience” for some films.
At least one film has already been pulled from Sundance programming this year due to the digital switch-over. French sales company Wild Bunch released its zombie comedy on Monday Final cut a prominent niche market, as the company said it would prefer to unveil the film “in a room with a live audience,” according to a press release.
While Wild Bunch is likely looking for a loud first-person experience to uplift crowd enjoyment, artier films might suffer without the heightened cinematic experience of a dark movie theater. For example, the black and white lyrical documentary by Jessica Beshir Fayi Dayi generated a muted response at last year’s Virtual Sundance, although it was ultimately sold to Janus Films and was recently shortlisted for an Academy Award. “It’s a tough movie to watch at home,” admits Ishikawa, who portrayed the film. “But we always knew it would be a slow discovery and he would have a life of his own.”
For Ishikawa, a virtual Sundance may work not all that different from an in person. Either way, he says, “You have to play the long game. Sometimes a movie climaxes right away; but other times it can happen at the end of a festival, at awards shows, or a few days later with a rave review or [New York Times critic] Manohla Dargis comes out of nowhere with an amazing paragraph on it, and it re-engages the industry and people are coming back to a movie.
However, press and social media reactions work a little differently in the streaming world, and some filmmakers are concerned about the wide access offered by a virtual platform. While Sundance prides itself on expanding the festival’s reach to a wider and diverse online audience and news groups who might not have been able to afford a trip to Park City in previous years, there is also drawbacks to (over) exposing certain films to a wider audience online.
“The movies that are affected the most by this are the movies that might have some sort of divisive content,” argues an industry insider. “There is no capacity to build word of mouth with the press. Everyone piles up immediately—[and] the press roster is so huge that you get people who aren’t super sophisticated weighing in on movies that they might never have bothered to get tickets for at a normal in-person festival. Rotten Tomatoes scores can kill a movie.
Erika Portnoy, producer of last year’s Sundance competition film John and the hole and registration for this year’s competition BloodOkay. “I think it kills the life of artistic films,” she says. When John and the hole premiered last year, she recalls, “We got hundreds of reviews rather than dozens of reviews, and it felt like we were releasing the film commercially rather than Sundance.”
“It’s not the critics who speak; it’s everyone, ”she continues, concerned about the launch this year of the film directed by Bradley Rust Gray. And with a title that could be misinterpreted as horror, Portnoy is especially worried that genre sites are covering the film inaccurately. “We try to be very specific about how we describe the movie,” she says. According to the description in the Sundance catalog, “Blood explores the site where fragile love can emerge from unchanging pain. With silent restraint, fresh rhythm, and unforgettable rich performance, this subtle study of conviviality captures the dynamism of the inner life. Adds Portnoy, “Hope this helps the right audience to watch it.”
Alexis Garcia, Executive Vice President of Endeavor Content’s Film Group, says “online access can galvanize a movie” in a way “much more powerful and faster” than an in-person screening. On the other hand, there were a few years at Sundance where the immediate reactions to the film shared on social media “can be damaging or change the perception of a film,” he adds, “it is not. so not like [in-person screenings] are completely blank.
Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson argues Sundance shouldn’t protect itself from a more diverse set of eyeballs. “The first thing to say is that the numbers we’re talking about are relatively small,” she says. (Sundance institutes viewing limits for each movie.) “I also think we need to understand that in the service of fairness and making the most of different audiences and different people writing about movies, there is going to be more. prospects, and that’s a good thing, “she adds.” I don’t think we can hold back the tide on this. “
“Our role is to show films that will have strong cinematic cultural, social and political value and to which audiences will respond,” Jackson continues. “And sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way the film crews wanted, and sometimes it massively exceeds their expectations.”
For some films, one could argue that a successful or lukewarm launch could be related to the format in which it is presented. Will audiences react more strongly to Sundance motion pictures if they are shown in theaters? Some sales and advertising companies are considering having physical screenings in New York or Los Angeles in an attempt to capture this cinematic magic, although Omicron may get in the way.
But Sundance’s Jackson argues that strong films will always resonate virtually. She remembers seeing the Sundance hit last year Summer of the soul as an online quote. “I was euphoric,” she says. “When I finally saw it on the big screen, it was amazing, but it was also amazing the first time I saw it on a small screen, so it’s all about degrees of dimensionality.
“The good things will always be at the top,” says Kevin Iwashina, senior vice president, Documentary at Endeavor Content, which represents the documentary. 2nd chance and the fictional drama Cha Cha real smooth. Whether online or in person, Iwashina believes that commercial films “that turn on audiences, like Summer of the soul last year has become very clear. The audience decides, and if they respond, that has value.
Iwashina also doesn’t disparage the link filtering market. “The links allow efficiency and accessibility, but it is also about contextualizing it and the strategies that you put in place around a programmed screening link to make it urgent,” he says.
After two years of online marketplaces and VOD dominance, Iwashina also suggests that buyers and sellers have gone beyond the theatrical premiere. “Before, it was just one medium: you invite 12 buyers into a screening room, and that’s it. Now there’s a lot more thinking about how content is presented in the marketplace and there are more buyers, in more mediums, who rely as much on hard data as on their own emotional response to make a decision.
In the new digital economy, it seems, a standing ovation at Sundance may be less meaningful than an algorithm given by any buyer.
Some filmmakers seem to accept this fact better.
While Sara Archambault, producer of the documentary for the NEXT section of Sierra Pettengill Riotsville, United Statesrecognizes that “many filmmakers create with a cinematic experience in mind. After almost two years of watching stuff almost exclusively on small screens, we have to come to terms with the fact that most audiences don’t engage with movies that way.
“I am sad for theaters,” continues Archambault. “But I hope today’s audiences are discerning audiences and could grow even more if the films made available to them online represented the full breadth of incredible artistry that we all know. “