Rx for Film Festival withdrawal
January 31, 2014
Even though the Sundance Film Festival has rolled up its red carpet, the MARC Theater has reverted to its intended use as a gym and the Temple Theater is once again a house of worship – there is a virtual festival of independent films at your fingertips. Thanks to new technology, there are more ways than ever to stream Sundance and other film festival offerings on your computer and TV.
This year, more than a dozen of this year’s Sundance documentaries, features and shorts already can be streamed or downloaded from the Internet, and many more from previous years are also available. The cost, in some cases, is less than a box of popcorn at the local theater.
Sundance itself has embraced the new online distribution channels as part of its mission to connect audiences and filmmakers. To that end, the organization has created a pair of websites that lead independent film fans straight through their computers, Rokus and Xboxes to the films that previously screened to sold-out Sundance audiences.
Here are a few ways to enjoy Sundance-caliber independent films from the comfort of home. You can program your own Couchdance festival and there is no need for a waitlist.
The website sundancenow.com offers a roundup of past Sundance films that are available to stream, rent or purchase. The home page divides films from previous festivals into enticing categories including Comedy, Drama, Award Winners and Favorites. Some of the titles are esoteric gems that failed to gain mainstream distribution and are finally getting a chance to find their niche audiences. Register with Sundancenow and you are good to go. The average streaming cost is $3.99.
In a similar vein, the site Sundance.org/nowplaying offers an easy-to-navigate menu of Sundance films that are available on other sources like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, iTunes and YouTube. Pick a film under the subheads — Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Native or "Weird" — and you will find a detailed synopsis, trailer and direct links to the distributors.
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Another way to hunt down the festival films you missed is by using your established instant video accounts. Like their audiences, commercial distributors seem to have a growing appetite for Sundance-approved fare. While HBO and PBS have been attending the festival with an eye toward signing contacts for many years, the field of potential buyers now includes CNN, Netflix, iTunes and many others.
If you already have a Netflix account you may be familiar with the online streaming service’s Independent category which includes both documentaries and features – though not identified as such, there is a treasure trove of past Sundance titles under this heading.
In an unprecedented move, this year, Netflix released "Mitt," which was featured in 2014 Sundance Documentary Premieres category even before the festival ended.
Several popular Sundance films that are available on Netflix include: "Sound City," "C.O.G.," "Cutie and the Boxer," "Blackfish," "Crystal Fairy," "Dirty Wars," "Lovelace," "Prince Avalanche," "The Square" and "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." Some of these had their world premieres at last year’s festival and have not yet been seen in regular theaters, at least not in Park City.
Through a partnership with the Sundance Institute, the popular web streaming site YouTube aired 15 Sundance shorts during the festival and asked viewers to vote on their favorites. "Chapel Perilous," a 15-minute quirky mystery earned the audience award. They are still available by dialing up the Sundance channel at: http://www.youtube/sff
Sundance also has a presence on iTunes that includes this year’s World Documentary competition film "Sepideh," about an Iranian teen who aspires to be an astronaut. "Sepideh" can be streamed for $4.99. Another noted documentary, available at the bargain rate of just 99 cents, is the financial documentary "Inequality for All" about former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich
There are other intriguing online options, too including the unique subscription service IndieFlix, indieflix.com, that seeks to connect filmmakers directly to audiences. According to founder and CEO Scilla Andreen, artists who sign up with IndieFlix are paid per view. The fee slides based on the total number of IndieFlix views that month and can range from a penny to 9 cents per minute their film is viewed, Andreen said.
Adventurous viewers subscribe for $5 per month and have their pick among about 4,000 titles. The downside is that many of the titles are by unknown directors and are unrated, so it may be tough to choose. But for those who fancy themselves as future festival programmers, it is an opportunity to glimpse an exciting universe of truly independent filmmaking.
But for old-school cinema fans, looking for a special night out in a real auditorium, there is one more option. The Park City Film Series scours the festival field each year and brings back those that most closely match local interests. And, thanks to a recent fundraising campaign, they are now projecting with top-notch digital equipment. The series screens both mainstream and Sundance selections. The series starts up again this weekend with "The Book Thief" which has made the rounds of regular theaters, but keep an eye out for the spring schedule which is likely to include some of this year’s Sundance titles. Their website is: parkcityfilmseries.com