Sundance Film Festival History

Sundance began in Salt Lake City in 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival in an effort to attract more filmmakers to Utah.

It was founded by Sterling Van Wagenen (then head of Wildwood, Robert Redford's company), John Earle and Cirina Hampton Catania (both serving on the Utah Film Commission at the time). With Chairperson Robert Redford, and the help of Governor Scott Matheson of Utah, the goal of the festival was to showcase strictly American-made films, highlight what the potential of independent film could be and to increase visibility for filmmaking in Utah.

In 1979, Sterling Van Wagenen left Wildwood to head up the first year "pilot" program of what was to become the Sundance Institute. Cirina Hampton Catania took over as Executive Director of the Festival.

Over 60 films were screened at the Festival in 1979. The Frank Capra Award went to Jimmy Stewart and the variuos panels featured many well-known Hollywood filmmakers. The Festival made a profit for the first time in 1979.

Robert Redford, a Utah resident, became the festival's inaugural chairman and having his name associated with Sundance gave the festival great attention. Response in Hollywood was unprecedented as major studios contributed their resources to the Festival.

In 1981, the festival moved to Park City, Utah and changed from September to January. The move from late summer to mid-winter was reportedly done on the advice of Hollywood director Sydney Pollack, who suggested that running a film festival in a ski resort during winter would draw more attention from Hollywood.

In 1984-85, the now well-established Sundance Institute, headed by Sterling Van Wagenen, took over management of the US Film Festival and changed the name to Sundance. Gary Beer and Sterling Van Wagenen spearheaded production of the inaugural Sundance Film Festival.

In 1991 the Festival was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival, after Redford's character The Sundance Kid from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Many famous independent filmmakers, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, James Wan, Edward Burns and Jim Jarmusch had their big break at Sundance.

Sundance was also responsible for bringing wider attention to films such as Saw, Garden State, Super Troopers, The Blair Witch Project, Better Luck Tomorrow, Primer, Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine, El Mariachi, Clerks, Thank You for Smoking, sex, lies, and videotape, The Brothers McMullen and Napoleon Dynamite.

Three Seasons was the first in Sundance history to ever receive both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award in 1999, the same as God Grew Tired of Us and QuinceaƱera in 2006. From 2006 through 2008, the Sundance Institute collaborated with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on a special series of film screenings, performances, panel discussions, and special events bringing the institute's activities and the festival's programming to New York City.

In January 2009, the festival was marked by a early exodus of celebrities who turned up for the first few days of the festival, but left early to attend the inauguration of the first African-American president, Barack Obama, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, January 20, 2009.