The Sundance Institute is one of the most unconventional film festivals ever in the story of  industry of the United States.

It has originally appeared as Utah film commission, and first was called the US film and video festival. It has been run by the Utah authorities for a while, until they decided to find some other financial support


Its original name SUNDANCE, however, the festival dues to Robert Redford who took the festival over in 1981, financed it and actually brought it to international level.

The Sundance Institute has  introduced to global audience some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including  Boyhood, Brooklyn, Super Size Me, Reservoir dogs by Quentin Tarantino, Hedwig and the Angry Inch  and many others that you might have seen or heard of.

We have asked Dean Lyrus who has worked for many years with Robert Redford to tell us the inside stories and that’s what he said:

Robert Redford had a lodge in Utah, situated 30 minutes away from Park city. He was holding the labs and people would  come over to ski and take part in his labs. Eventually these labs became the Sundance Film festival. And the festival grew and grew and at that time it was such a social and cultural even that people would spend the whole week to see the films, and the crescendo  would become the week-end when the awards would be announced.  Since the 2004 however this festival has become the studio and agent driven place. It has also become sponsors driven, for example Philipps, Samsung, Acura. Some clothing companies came in, some liquor companies came in, they have built the tents on Main and started the parties for the agents and people of the industry. So the original non profit festival has little by little become the Galaxy industry deal with private parties with their own guest lists!



Spy: So you do not think it is an alternative film festival anymore?

Dean: It still is but I believe that the films they are choosing are corky or depressive sometimes. But it is also a very good start for emerging directors.  I remember Tarantino, when he was a writer, nobody knew him until he brought his Reservoir Dogs there. And  Robert Rodriguez  as well.  He brought his Original Mariachi which he shoot in 16 mm for the first time there.

Spy: So what is the criteria of choosing a film for a festival program? Why would an emerging director be refused?

Dean: The people on the board tend to favour directors with previous awards even if the have done the films two month prior to the festival. But if a director is someone they have never heard of, he is supposed to send an assignment letter at least one year prior to event.


Spy: What exactly were you doing at Sundance and how was it to work with Robert Redford?

Dean: I’ve been shooting the trailers for Sundance. I  shot the trailers that opened the festival. Now they changed it a little bit. In the beginning Robert Redford was basically supervising everything. Now the festival has its own offices in Park city, its own identity and it’s basically driven by itself. So what Rob is doing is basically shows up as celebrity to support the films!

In fact the last time we saw Robert Redford at Sundance was his appearance side by side with a filmmaker Bernard McMahon, a partial screening of «American Epic», the upcoming four-part six-hour television mini-series about the evolution of American music.

Setting the stage for this film, Redford spoke about how music became a major force in shaping his life and how it continues to influence his journey to this day.   


However, having a program of non-profit Sundance institute and supporting independent artists the Sundance Institute helps to offset the Festival costs and sustain  different programs yet maintaining a real business deal. So if you are not in the industry, you will be asked to support the films by acquisting credentials or movie tickets.

Yet, all these years the Sundance Film Festival  had brought quite original storytellers together with the most adventurous audiences for short and drama films documentary and installations, panel discussions and dynamic music events. We especially like the Spike Lee’s documentary on Michael Jackson’s journey from Motown to off the Wall! Despite a documentary style it is a hilarious and spectacular journey to the music and life of young Michael – absolutely astonishing film that we highly recommend to our audience!


Kate Lavrovskaia

So who is eligible for this most unconventional film festival where you will never see the red carpets, sumptuous outfits  and all that glam that usually surrounds any film festival venue?

The Sundance Institute Feature Film Program supports and champions emerging storytellers who develop original independent films with singular, distinctive vision.

Driven by the belief that individual stories illuminate universal truths, the program has supported many of today’s most innovative filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The Sundance film festival is quite an impressive venue from a landscape point of view. Surrounded by the high mountains, it offers first of all a very pleasant ski resort with three different valleys to explore. It snows a lot in Park City, and therefore, it is hard to imagine the LA stars walking barefooted around the festival venues.  Canada Goose down jackets and moon boots is a dress code for any most glamorous party in town.

How about filmmakers? How do they possibly get there with their adventurous films? 

Here is the deal. Step number one:  Write a script (neo-noir with a western twist)

Step number two and four and five: set budget, find investor, tweak budget and shoot!

Then take a plane LAX – SLC and keep your fingers crossed!

We have one more thing left to say and that would be obviously the winner of the Festival! The top award is going to………. «The Birth of a Nation» – an epic story about the american-born slave who would lead the most successful slave rebellion in American history. The second film with the same award would be “Sonita” and it’s the third time in Festival history that two films have done this in the same year!

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We highly appreciate the Sundance Institute help in organising this exciting journey to one of the most intriguing  and cool film festivals!

Keep watching movies!!