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Sundance: Evolution of a Festival
Posted January 27, 2010 to photo album "Sundance: Evolution of a Festival"
As park of Movie City: Park City, FilmInFocus’ Nick Dawson looks at ten years that have shaped the Sundance Film Festival.
1999: The Year of the Witch
Every so often, one particular film dominates at Sundance: it happened with Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape in 1989, and again with Kevin Smith’s Clerks in 1994. Both times, cinephiles were excited by the movies’ bold new approaches, while the buyers became even more motivated to go to great lengths to discover the next such breakout movie. And then in 1999, there was The Blair Witch Project. When it first played at the 1999 festival, the fake found footage movie about three doomed hikers had numerous audience believing that what they were watching was real, and even those who realized it was fiction were terrified. Made by debutant directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick for around $22,000, it caused an acquisitions war in Park City which was won by Artisan, who paid over $1 million for distribution rights. Released that summer with a savvy marketing campaign, it grossed $140 Stateside, plus another $100 million plus worldwide. Blair Witch will always been the first thing people remember of Sundance ’99 however, ironically it was a film about a low-budget horror flick, Chris Smith’s funny and poignant doc American Movie, which was the other breakout movie of the year, winning the Grand Jury Prize in the non-fiction and then enjoying (more modest) box office success later in the year.