Sundance looks forward and back
January 13, 2014
In a nondescript Salt Lake office building, in a rabbit warren of unrelated offices and behind an unmarked door, Sundance Institute archivist Tanya DeAngelis dons a pair of white cotton gloves and opens a yellow-tinged document dating back to 1979. The pages outline plans to establish a haven for independent filmmaking.
The original prospectus for the Sundance Institute, now a venerable 30-year-old institution with a global brand, was discovered buried in a cardboard carton full of memorabilia. It still gives DeAngelis the shivers.
"The prospectus was the most moving document I found because it really does document what the institute has become, knowing the idea was there and the Institute has grown into it is wonderful," she said.
As Di Angelis weaves through the narrow walkways carved out among metal shelves bulging with an array of archaic formats – VHS tapes, film reels and audio cassettes — she adds, "My work here is, honestly, just a dream. It is absolutely tremendous to be able to walk in here — even to look at digital material – and go through the discovery process.
DeAngelis, who earned a degree in film studies and is a card-carrying member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, revels in investigating the origins of old photos, scripts, snippets of film and videotape and newspaper clippings. And, stacked on metal shelves filling approximately 1,000 square feet of space – kept at 64 degrees to preserve the vast array of materials – she has plenty of sorting to do.
She points out another favorite item: a flurry of correspondence between a Sundance programmer and the filmmaker Todd Haynes surrounding the acceptance of his film "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" into the 1986 festival. It includes a letter congratulating him for getting in to the festival and his emotional response. "The fact that it is handwritten makes it that much more exciting," she said.
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Another treasure, laid open in a black, three-ring binder, is an annotated screenplay for the film "Reservoir Dogs" by a then-unknown director, Quentin Tarantino. On the title page is a handwritten note: "Budget $1.8 mil, to star Harvey Keitel" and it is dated October 22, 1990.
After the film’s controversial debut at Sundance in 1992 "Reservoir Dogs" became a cult classic and Tarantino went on to make "Pulp Fiction." Considering Tarantino’s subsequent impact on the film industry, his hand-annotated script is a valuable relic of filmmaking history.
Deeper in the archives are shelves laden with oversized and oddly shaped items – a pair of virtual pants that were part of an early experiment in 3D printing at a New Frontier installation, a chubby Ronald McDonald doll emblazoned with the logo for Morgan Spurlock’s popular film "Supersize Me" and a variety of pins, posters and other vintage souvenirs from past festivals.
DeAngelis has been the official caretaker for these relics since the archives was established in 2006, and there has been no letup in the amount of material arriving on her doorstep. This summer, in an effort to consolidate, she received 100 boxes from the Institute’s offices in Los Angeles.
In addition to sorting and prioritizing all of the myriad items related to Institute’s ever-expanding slate of programs, DeAngelis must keep up with a constant stream of new technology. A large part of her job, she explained, involves migrating images from fragile and obsolete formats to the newest digital platforms. As anyone who has tried to archive their own family photo collections and home movies knows, that is a daunting task, not to mention managing 30 years of defining moments in the lives of thousands of filmmakers.
For a comprehensive list of past Sundance films, award winners and much more, film history sleuths can log on to: history.sundance.org
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