Half of fest's shorts will be available for download

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The Sundance Film Festival is turning into a retailer of sorts, pacting with iTunes to sell shorts that play at the fest on the Apple-owned site.

ITunes will sell about half of the 71 live-action and animated shorts unspooling at the fest this year for $1.99 each, the same price as an individual episode of a TV series.

Sundance has always streamed a selection of shorts on its own site, and will do so again this year.

But Sundance director of programming John Cooper said the new deal could give filmmakers greater reach and revenue, while also branding the festival on new platforms.

Goal, Cooper said, is to export the fest beyond the multitudes who already descend on Park City. “In a way, we’re not that interested in talking to the people who are at the festival because we’re already at a max with them. We want to talk to people who don’t come to the festival.”

Podcasts of panels and other events will be made available for free on iTunes.

Essentially, the deal looks to turn a film’s festival screening from a one-off event at a particular time and place into a product that can be consumed by anyone throughout the year. Promos for the shorts, which will become available midway through the fest on Jan. 22, also will run on the Sundance Channel.

But whether iTunes can achieve success with unknown content remains an open question; while shows like “Lost” and “CSI” have been sources of revenue and brand extensions, there’s little track record for lesser-known video properties.

Nonexclusive deal allows filmmakers to sell shorts in other venues as well. Revenue will be split between the filmmakers and Sundance, with filmmakers taking more than half the total on each pic.

Sundance ultimately would like to sell all the shorts, but must contend with rights issues for some of the films.

Pact comes as Sundance makes a larger push for shorts. In addition to its festival program, this year it’s commissioning new shorts for mobile phones from the likes of “Little Miss Sunshine” co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Fest founder Robert Redford has said he wants Sundance to do for shorts in 2007 what it has done for indie features over the past two decades.

The form has become more prevalent as technology has made producing and distributing shorts easier. Shorts also offer a more direct benefit to the festival: cultivating talent. Fest touts Todd Haynes, Spike Jonze and Paul Thomas Anderson as among the directors who made their Sundance debut with shorts.

For iTunes, product helps pave the way for more movie content. While its feature-film offerings are still comparatively small, site has a growing pipeline of shorts, including titles from Pixar and Magnolia’s release of the Oscar-nommed shorts.

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