23 Facts About 23 (Official) Years of Sundance

Park City, Utah, in mid-January, before the crowds arrive.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

1. Before being called the Sundance Festival, Utah’s annual film festival was called the Utah/US Film Festival--and was held in Salt Lake City.

2. Robert Redford is not the founder! The Utah/US Film Festival was founded in 1978 by Sterling van Wegener--a Bringham Young University film school grad and John Earle, the Utah State film commissioner. Redford, who was then married to van Wegener’s cousin, agreed to be the festival board’s first chairman.

3. You didn’t always get to ski. In 1981 the festival moved from Salt Lake City to the ski resort town of Park City.


4. Reportedly, Sydney Pollack (a member of the festival’s board) suggested moving the festival to the winter months so that it would be during the ski season. “Hollywood would beat down the door to attend,” he promised.

5. The Sundance Institute (created by Redford in 1981) took over running the Utah film festival in 1985 because the festival needed year round support (and fundraising!)

6. The festival has had several name changes over the years. It was called the United States Film Festival from 1985-1989, The Sundance United States Film Festival in 1990 and eventually became the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.

7. The Coen brothers’ debut film “Blood Simple” was the first film to win the Grand Jury Award for dramatic film after the name change in 1985 after the Sundance Institute took over the festival.

8. In 1988 Steven Soderbergh volunteered at the festival as a driver, ferrying festival goers around the city. The following year his debut film “sex, lies and videotape” won the Audience Award.

9. Some of the famous films of the late 80s that screened at Sundance included “Hannah and Her Sisters” “Heathers” and John Waters’ “Hairspray.”

10. Sundance hosted Michael Moore’s debut documentary in 1989--”Roger and Me.”

11. John Turturro was the first actor to receive the Tribute to Independent Vision Award in 1992.

12. In 1993 director Robert Rodriguez’s film “El Mariachi”--made for only $7,000--won the audience award.

13. By 1994 Sundance was getting so flooded with submissions (by independent filmmakers and those with studio backing) that Slamdance, a second independent film festival was started.

14. By 1997 the residents of Park City were seeing an estimated $20 million direct investment in their town each year thanks to the festival.

15. In 1999 a midnight screening of “The Blair Witch Project” at Sundance sparked a nationwide obsession with the film, making it the most successful independent release of all time.

16. It will take 1,500 volunteers to keep the 2008 festival running smoothly.

17. For the first time this year Sundance will hand out awards to international filmmakers in directing, screenwriting and cinematography awards in both dramatic and documentary categories.

18. For the 2008 festival, the film festival eliminated the $5 fee to register for a time slot to buy festival passes and ticket packages. This resulted in a flood of applications, and more than 4,000 were rejected without receiving any time slot at all.

19. In 1985 ten films received awards at the Sundance Film Festival. By 2007 28 films were recognized (including those that receive honorable mentions).

20. More than 20,000 people attend Sundance each year.

21. Quentin Tarantino’s debut film “Reservoir Dogs” premiered at Sundance in 1992. The film had been produced with formal guidance from the Sundance Institute.

22. The film festival is wisely held during the third week of January--a typical dead time at the ski resort town.

23. In 2008 the Sundance film festival received more than 8,000 submissions--the most ever.