Sundance Film Festival releases shorts on iTunes | ParkRecord.com

Sundance Film Festival releases shorts on iTunes

by ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

These days the Sundance Film Festival is no longer held strictly in Park City it’s also online.

This week, The Sundance Institute announced that, in addition to streaming shorts on its Web site, the festival will team up with iTunes to offer free podcasts and to allow the public to purchase copies of shorts, giving shorts filmmakers the opportunity to turn a profit. To own a copy of a Sundance short, downloaders will pay $1.99, and nearly half of that will go directly to the artist.

"In the world that we’ve been in for the last 20 years since we’ve been showing shorts, there hasn’t really been a market for shorts," explains John Cooper, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival and the director of creative development for the Sundance Institute.

"Most shorts filmmakers make their films for themselves and for festivals, to launch careers," he told The Park Record. "That’s why it’s been a fun project and a really exciting project, because if we can create a paradigm where filmmakers are actually getting paid for their work, I think it will change the culture of the short film genre."

In Friday’s press release, Sundance Institute and Sundance Channel founder Robert Redford is quoted as saying, "if people really care about independent film, they should pay particular attention to short filmmakers, who are the best indicators of what is coming down the creative pike."

Sundance shorts have been the launch pad for a number of artists including directors Spike Jonze, the director of "Adaptation," Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of "Magnolia," as well as David O. Russell, who directed the film, "Three Kings." Shorts led them to bigger projects, but until now, directors ordinarily expected to loose money in the short term, Cooper says.

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A portion of the revenue from sales of iTune Sundance shorts will also go to iTunes, and some will go to The Sundance Institute and the Sundance Channel, according to Cooper.

Full-length films will continue to be reserved for festival ticket holders. The public can log into iTunes to download film shorts on January 22.

Free of charge, viewers may also download podcasts from iTunes that take a behind the scenes look at the Sundance Film Festival, including panels with filmmakers, journalists and industry representatives.

The Sundance Film Festival’s online video content has evolved over seven years, from incorporating daily video vignettes of events during the festival to including a selection of interviews with Sundance filmmakers called "Meet The Artists" a bank of videos about artists in the current festival that Cooper says has doubled since the previous year.

"We’re really just trying to create points of access for people to the festival," he explains, adding that he would like for the smaller videos to be a reference guide for festival goers before they even buy tickets. Meeting filmmakers helps to give films some context, he says, enhancing the festival experience.

However, Cooper stresses that a large part of what’s happening online to the festival is that those who cannot make it to Utah or the states for that matter are able to tune in to what’s happening.

Last year, there were one and a half million hits on the Sundance Web film pages, reports Cooper a figure that doubles the previous year’s number. Nearly 35 percent of those who watched the video programming on the Web were from all over the world.

In large part, the push to put Sundance on the Internet has come from the filmmakers themselves.

"We asked filmmakers at the end of the festival what they would like to see happen next year, and they said they would like to be selling their films on iTunes with the Sundance name, where people can find them by knowing Sundance," Cooper says.

As of now, only a select group of the 71 shorts in this year’s Sundance program will be available. Others chose instead to have their shorts launched on the Sundance Web site after their world premiere in Park City.

Some filmmakers chose not to put their shorts on iTunes for legal reasons.

"Since there’s no history of making money with shorts, a lot of filmmakers don’t clear all the rights," Cooper explained. "When you’re making a film, you have certain kinds of rights for music and festivals, rights you can use until you start making money. Once you start making money, all the rules shift. If you don’t clear those rights ahead of time, it’s really hard to go back and get them."

Assembling the shorts online has been a challenge, Cooper says.

"It’s kind of odd, I’m really not a techy at all. I’m just using this technology as best I can to get what I want, which is for people to love the independent world," he admits. "We decided we had to do this to stay in this game, but it’s always been a struggle to make these things work with a lot of sweat and blood, because we’re not a big tech company, we’re a film festival."

Access to free behind-the-scenes podcasts of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and downloadloadable portion of this year’s shorts program, will be available on iTunes Monday, January 22. For more information, log onto festival.sundance.org.