It's not just the movies that square off at The Sundance Film Festival, the big brands and the festival itself are in the ring facing off too.
Walking down Main Street in Park City during the dance can feel a little like taking a stroll down a freezing cold, snowy mall. Brands throw up all over you. You have the Bing Lounge, the VEVO PowerStation and T-Mobile's Village at the Lift just to name a few. Behind each of these doors is an oasis from the cold where you will be given free stuff and plied with alcohol. If you're lucky, you might even be able to sit on a couch next to a quasi-celebrity and complain about the crowds together. This is, of course, assuming you can get in. If you aren't a celebrity, press or someone with an amazing talent for bullshit, chances are you won't be going past Door #1.
Clark and I have visited the majority of these places, and it's been quite the experience. We tried on boots with Common in a lounge. We ate weird meatballs with Ron Livingston at some bar. Clark got really excited about that because he loves Office Space. Sarah got really excited about it because she loves Sex and the City. Neither one of us knew what the other was talking about. We got force fed chocolate Cream of Wheat with a celebrity whose name we didn't recognize and can't remember. Apparently, she won an Oscar. We wanted to talk to her, but got distracted by some sheets with naked scuba diving women wearing pearls on them. They were simply amazing.
We also saw some films. Good movies and not so good movies. Luckily, Sarah had practiced the face she talked about. She was confronted with a director of a movie that made her eyeballs ache. Somehow, she managed to make her face look un-offended and tell him he did a great job. Regardless of whether we liked the movie, all of the filmmakers and actors we have met have been one of a kind. They are like five-year-olds at Christmas, and just being near them feels like standing in the sun.
After seeing both sides of Sundance, we think that the dynamic of Festival vs. Brands produces less than desirable results. There are a few brands that officially sponsor Sundance, but most don't. The lack of affiliation is not ideal for many reasons. Sundance is a nonprofit with an amazing mission, and it needs financial support. When brands aren't officially integrated, they don't have to cough up any cash to the festival. They should. If they don't, it's kind of like spending the weekend at your buddy's house, using all his stuff and not buying the dude a drink at the bar. Not cool. Sundance is also year-round. The brands just breeze into town for the weekend to get you drunk, but Sundance is here 365 days a year providing support to filmmakers. Brands should be helping them help us have better movies.
Sundance also benefits from the brands. They host the after parties for the films, the dinners for the directors and provide everyone with lots of fun. There is nothing wrong with that. We are also, for better or worse, a product-driven society and some of them had some great stuff. Sarah might have gotten 43 concussions without her new boots. She never found those high heel crampons.
We hope that next year the brands and Sundance will be holding hands in the ring instead of facing off. Greater integration would only strengthen the festival experience for attendees and add value to both parties. If we were driving this bus, we would ask that all brands make a financial contribution to Sundance and promote the festival while they promote their presence here. It's a simple thing for a large brand to do and it would produce big results. It would also get them lots of warm fuzzys from their consumers for being a supporter of film and the arts.
The Sundance vs. the Brands battle is also an interesting discord in the context of what many anticipate will be a drastic change in how T.V. and movie content is financed and distributed in the coming year or two. If the cable model breaks, it may just be that brands play a greater role in directly sponsoring television and movie content. Festivals like Sundance are some of the places where the entertainment industry and the brands are already in bed together. If Sundance can find a way to make the brands work for the Institute and the Festival, it could be an interesting lesson for all of us.