Sundance Swag

I’ve been intrigued by Eric Alterman’s description of his experiences at the Sundance Film Festival. I do think Sundance can have a positive effect on filmmaking and on the promotion of independent cinema, even in the midst of the “corporate hype and celebrity hoopla,” as Alterman describes it. The festival does provide a site for promoting progressive filmmaking, such as the Queer Lounge at this year’s Sundance (they generously invited me to drop by, but unfortunately I wasn’t at the festival), and one of the big award winners, the documentary Iraq in Fragments looks very promising. Sundance’s “Where is the Media?” panel, on which Alterman participated, is also a good example.

At the same time, as Alterman’s comments illustrate, the festival is loaded with contradictions, especially when it comes to the role that corporate swag plays at the festival. Alterman is worth quoting in full on this topic:

I’m not a prig, but one of the more morally objectionable things I’ve ever seen in my life were the “gifting booths” set up at Sundance exclusively for the purposes of giving celebrities expensive things they could easily afford and then leaking the news to star-struck journalists so that they could write about how wonderful both the celebrities and the products were as if that’s what was really important at a festival designed to nurture and encourage new artistic voices. Clearly it’s a screwy society that gives rich people free stuff and brags about it.

If you’ve read my blog for very long, I probably don’t have to tell you that I share Alterman’s sentiments on this topic. But I think Alterman’s also right to argue that it’s worthwhile to think about how celebrity worship can be used in productive ways (Angelina Jolie’s ongoing charity efforts and George Clooney’s filmmaking ventures are but two good examples).

This post is a long way around asking what might be a fairly simple question, especially for my readers who do research in film and media studies. I’d be curious to know what, if anything, has been written on the effect of these film festivals (Sundance especially) on film production, distribution, and consumption. If I recall correctly, I know that Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt’s edited collection, Contemporary American Independent Film; From the Margins to the Mainstream addresses this topic to some extent, but any other suggestions would be much appreciated.

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