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Sundance Selections Hit the Road
by Karen Pecota

The Sundance Film Festival 2011 offered the nation a creative and practical way to view the year’s top Indie film selections while never the need to leave home. The program is known as Sundance USA. The festival organizers were onto an exhilarating idea to connect even larger audiences with the yearly festival. In its second year, Sundance USA took specific film selections from the official Sundance Film Festival program to debut in local art houses nationwide. These films coincide with screenings at the festival in Park City, Utah (the festival site). In 2010, Sundance USA targeted a few cities for the pilot program but this year ten cities across America were chosen to receive the Sundance film selections to show for one night only engagements.

I noticed in the 2011 festival schedule that the project was advertised in the press materials. I was curious and ready to check it out. The announcement clearly stated that Seattle would be one of the target cities. I wanted to participate in the experience to observe the event in my hometown at a very funky venue. The film set for the Seattle gig was Cedar Rapids. Honestly, I had my reservations about the storyline but the attraction was John C. Reilly as a principal cast member along with Ed Helms, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alia Shawkat and Sigourney Weaver. The date for the showing in Seattle was the Thursday prior to the festival closing date. I would be covering the festival for my outlet and needed permission to leave the festival in Park City, Utah earlier than expected. I received permission, ordered tickets online for myself and a friend, and planned the fun adventure into my festival schedule.

Sundance Film Festival 2010 was the first year John Copper, took the festival reigns as the director. Known for his strategic innovations to enhance the festival year after year, he did not fall short of producing a few more surprise elements that year. There were three areas that caught my attention: 1) There was online streaming of the opening press conference; 2) Incorporating the online audience during the opening press conference allowing them to participate in the Q & A time; 3) Ten of the short films selected to screen at the festival were able to be viewed online at the official festival website and You Tube. A fabulous idea!

One of my favorite female speakers on leadership, Nancy Beach often speaks on the importance of incorporating surprise elements into an event. Nancy is the Executive Vice President of the Arts with Willow Creek Associations & Director of the Arts at Willow Creek Community Church. As she relates to this idea in her own setting she explains, “Every church service should contain a surprise element that enhances the message the pastor will bring so it is remembered and causes an impact.”

I am convinced that Cooper understands the importance of a philosophy of surprise elements as did his predecessors. It brings the audience back to engage in something new, fresh or simply a message that has food for thought. The festival programmers are searching for the very best Indie films all year long. They choose films that implement surprise elements to enhance the message of the festival: a place where filmmakers have the opportunity to tell their story and get it right.

During the opening press conference for this year’s Sundance Film Festival a question was asked about the probability of viewing the festival films after the festivities end. John Cooper and Robert Redford tried to answer this difficult question because the answer isn’t a simply one. After a time of discussion, they stated that they are working to gain a wider audience for the Indie films and seriously exploring a variety of options—one being Sundance USA.

The Seattle gig took place at the vintage Art Deco style Landmark Theater. My friend, Judeen and I arrived in plenty of time to each receive a huge big bag of free popcorn and a special ticket for raffle prizes given by one of the Sundance Film Festival sponsors, CHASE Bank. The Sundance Film Festival Director, John Cooper welcomed the audience via live streaming to be seen on the big screen. The introduction was sharp and clear. The video connection was nicely fine-tuned that I felt like I was in Park City. Cooper introduced the Sundance USA Event, shared a little history and thanked the audience for attending. His welcome and introduction to the audience was wonderfully presented. I was impressed! He talked about the film we would view and gave the microphone to his sister-in-law, who was in attendance and she introduced the film director, Miguel Arteta. There was a Q & A after the film with the director. Arteta’s first dialogue with the audience was to clarify that he knew nothing about insurance conventions before making the film. But, came to realize after attending a convention that they definitely knew how to party and lived up to that reputation.

I believe it was a successful event. Nothing ventured, nothing lost and in this case the idea for Seattle to be a recipient of the Sundance USA project was a win-win. It was a win for Seattle-ites, die-hard fans of the Indie film industry, to enjoy a piece of Sundance 2011. It was a win for the Sundance Institute and Film Festival to incorporate a wider film audience into the Indie film industry.

What is my take-away? It seems that there is a bright future for more Indie films to hit the road with Cooper because if they go with Jack they’re sure to come back no more, no more. But, with Cooper, they’re sure to see the welcome mat out and likely to notice the light has been left on for them.