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Sundance Film Festival Going Underground?

By Mike Everleth ⋅ September 3, 2009

The big buzz around the movie Internet yesterday was the announcement by the Sundance Film Festival that in 2010 they will introduce a new section of the fest called NEXT, which will feature “six to eight films selected for their innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking.” While that criteria can include a wide range of films, this announcement could mean that the festival is opening itself up to films exhibiting an underground aesthetic.

Or not. The official press release from Sundance is a bit vague on exactly they’re looking for in films to fill this section. That’s ok since it’s their first year trying it out, but it’ll be interesting to see exactly what the festival considers “innovative and original,” especially since one of the chief complaints against the festival in recent years is that a majority of their selections exhibit neither of those things.

It would be nice to see some underground films representin’ at Sundance, although the odds of earning one of those six or eight slots is beyond enormous. As of yesterday, the festival says they have received 3,689 films with more submissions expected to roll in up to their Sept. 25th late deadline. It’s already a major crapshoot to get into Sundance proper. So now that the fest is planning to screen types of films it’s traditionally ignored, will that encourage a whole segment of filmmakers who have written off submitting to Sundance to give it a go again this year?

The press release gives NEXT the official motto <=>, a symbol that means “less than equals greater than.” But an interesting note to that appears in indieWire’s news article on the announcement. Cooper tells iW that the symbol is “a bit of an homage to Miranda July.” I’m not sure what that homage is referencing of July’s, but the first thing I thought of when I saw the symbol was Michael Snow’s classic 1969 structuralist film <—>, which is sometimes referred to as Back and Forth.

Maybe it’s too much to read into, but referencing July instead of Snow could seem to indicate that NEXT probably won’t be including fully experimental works. July, of course, started out primarily making short underground experimental videos like Nest of Tens and then went on to direct the indie feature film Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won a special jury prize at Sundance in 2005.

The Sundance Film Festival will run next year Jan. 21-31. As mentioned above, the fest is still accepting submissions until Sept. 25.

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