Sundance Film Festival milestones

Timeline highlighting fest's important moments

Park City Parables

Milestones and points of interest along the road of Sundance’s 25 years of festivals:


  • Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute buys the struggling U.S. Film Festival, moves it to Park City from Salt Lake, and focuses programming on the work of independent filmmakers.

  • In its first year under Sundance supervision, fest screens 80 pics, including Grand Jury Prize winner “Blood Simple,” a low-budget noir thriller from first-timers Joel and Ethan Coen.


  • Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies and videotape” makes its world premiere at Park City, then goes on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and earn $25 million domestically for a relatively unknown New York-based distribution company named Miramax.


  • Fest officially changes name to the Sundance Film Festival. Geoff Gilmore takes the programming reins. “Poison,” first-time director Todd Haynes’ controversial, experimental narrative, wins the festival’s Grand Jury Prize.


  • “Clerks,” a slacker comedy that 23-year-old Kevin Smith makes for $27,000, draws rave reviews at its Sundance premiere, gets picked up by Miramax, and earns $3.1 million at the U.S. box office.


  • The big-money acquisitions era officially begins when “The Spitfire Grill,” a tearjerker funded by a Catholic nonprofit, is picked up in Park City by Castle Rock for $10 million. Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein tussles with Fine Line brass over “Shine.” Fine Line prevails and nabs seven Oscar noms for the pic in 1997.


  • In perhaps the most infamous example of festival buzz gone haywire, comedy “Happy, Texas” sells for “north of $10 million” to Miramax, only to gross $1.96 million domestically.


  • High-profile bidding-war pics “Supersize Me,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Garden State” sell big at the festival, then go on to collect a combined $83 million at the U.S. box office.


  • “Little Miss Sunshine” and

    “An Inconvenient Truth,” the most talked-about narrative and docu pics to debut at Sundance, end up grossing a combined $104 million in ticket sales and grab a total of four Oscars the following year.


  • Frustrated with celebrity culture, paparazzi and gifting suites invading Park City during the festival, Sundance organizers hand out buttons with the slogan “Focus on Film.” This trend is revived in 2008.


  • In what seems like a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” spirit, Sundance officially partners with one of the biggest “pirate marketing” hubs, the Lift, and turns it into a hospitality and event space — but decidedly sans swag, organizers promise.

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