No Sundance, Jack

It’s Sundance Time!

I live in Utah. And at the end of January something happens. It’s called Sundance. You know, that little film festival that makes or breaks films and directors and actors and the like? Yes, that crops up. There are venues everywhere for it, not just up in that quaint little Alpine hamlet in the mountains called Park City. All through Salt Lake, and even up here in Ogden you see movie screenings going on. It’s great. It brings filmmakers together and has ignited several other film festivals — now thriving in their own right . . . Slamdance comes to mind.

This year they had a RECORD-BREAKING 14,259 SUBMISSIONS FROM 152 COUNTRIES (yes, they touted that on their website). Only 112 features were accepted. And I don’t know how many shorts. But I do know that my short did not make the cut. (See Rejection Letter below.) This was the second time I tried. Not with the same film of course — wouldn’t that be pointless? Actually, THAT would be a funny subject for a short . . . this filmmaker makes this short, and it’s pretty good. So he or she submits it to Sundance. But of course it gets rejected. But just as an experiment, and not to be daunted, and because, dang it, the filmmaker believes in their project, they submit it again the next year. It doesn’t make it. But they just keep submitting year after year. And maybe one year it actually gets in. And then it wins the grand jury prize and they are an “overnight” sensation and everyone wants them to make a feature starring the hottest actors . . .

Picking Through the Pile

OK, maybe it doesn’t work that way. But how exactly does it work? How does the preliminary picking through the pile of 14k films work? I’d really like to know. I’m not bitter about JACK not getting in (the name of my short). I didn’t expect it to. It’s not really a Sundance type of film — although I’m not really sure what that is. And I submitted it to get my pesky husband off my back who insisted I send it in. (Sorry, darling, I do love you.)

I’m just curious exactly what the criteria is to get in to Sundance and who are the grunts that have to dig through the 14k pile? And are there ways to circumvent that pile? Of course there must be. And there’s nothing really wrong with that either. Sundance wants to have great films at their festival. Their reputation is built on it — so it behooves them to have people who know what’s coming up that’s decent to send things their way. I get it. I’d probably run my film festival that way too.

I guess what I really want to know is, how does one actually get into Sundance? Make a good film, right? Well, not necessarily. It is a matter of taste. Certain festivals are looking for certain kind of flavors to their films. So, if you want to break into the film festival circuit, do you search for festivals that hunger for your certain kinds of films? Or do you flip that around and find out what festivals are looking for and tailor your films to fit them? Sundance likes edgy, but thoughtful, it seems. Slamdance likes even more edgy, I’d venture to say. The big question is HOW do you find out what festival your film might do well in? Certainly there is Film Freeway, but who has the time to comb through all of those submissions to find the perfect few for your little baby?

It must come down to what many things come down to, networking. Getting to know people, who know people who can point you in the right direction. Of course you have to have a quality film. Or at least a likeable film that’s not a piece of garbage. Possibly. At any rate, would you like to see what a rejection letter from Sundance looks like? I’m going to think of it as a badge of honor for actually trying. Not everyone can say they submitted to Sundance, well, this year 14,259 people can say they did. And only 112 got in (well, for features). So that puts me in good company.

Sundance Rejection Letter

RE:  10230-US19 – Jack

Dear Julie-Anne,

On behalf of the entire Programming team for the Sundance Film Festival, thank you for allowing us to consider your film for the 2019 edition of the Festival. Unfortunately, we were unable to include it in our program this year. Ultimately, we are forced to make many difficult decisions throughout our process, and we consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to view the latest work from the independent creative community. 

We received a record number of submissions this year (over 14,200), and the number of worthy projects submitted to us is far higher than the number of slots available in our Festival program. The level of quality displayed in the projects we receive is higher each and every year, so it is never an easy process. We wish you the best of luck with your film going forward and we are excited see more of your work in the future.


John Cooper

Director, Sundance Film Festival

Next Time

Should there be a next time, hopefully I’ll have better luck. To any of you out there that had the same fate with Sundance this year as I did, I hope you have better luck too. And hey, maybe I’ll just do some research for that short idea and keep resubmitting JACK for the next five years . . . just to see 😉

JACK – A Short Film (That Didn’t Get in to Sundance)

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