Record editorial: Giving a platform to underrepresented filmmakers is a highlight of the Sundance story
From the time the Sundance Film Festival gets underway Thursday until the closing credits roll Feb. 2, there will be many words spoken about the power of story.
Indeed, the stories that will play out on the screen during Sundance, whether inventive fictional narratives or hard-hitting documentaries portraying real-life struggles, will reveal truths of the human condition, change perspectives, spark empathy — and yes, entertain.
But beyond the recognition that story has the ability to enlighten and move us, a critical question remains: Whose stories, exactly, will be told during the festival?
This year, Sundance will be able to provide a more satisfying answer than ever before as the festival rolls out perhaps its most diverse lineup. According to organizers, 46% of the directors in one of the four competition categories are women, while 38% are people of color and 12% are LGBTQ.
Compared to the rest of the film industry, those numbers are remarkable (as one can attest after a quick scan of the recent Oscar nominations, which have been rightly criticized for being overwhelmingly male and white).
It didn’t happen by accident, or overnight. Rather, it’s the result of years of Sundance leadership understanding the festival’s standing as America’s premier showcase of independent film and placing emphasis on seeking out and nurturing diverse voices. (To its credit, Sundance has also taken significant steps to increase diversity among the media credentialed to cover the festival.)
Lest anyone dismiss the diversity numbers as merely an opportunity for Sundance to pat itself on the back, one thing must be clear: Representation matters. In addition to the push for inclusion providing more equity for underrepresented filmmakers — a worthy goal in itself — the voices now being included are ones audiences need to hear. Their stories give us a more complete understanding of the world around us and how we fit into it, showing us what it’s like to grow up as a black child in America or illuminating the challenges women face in the workplace.
Likewise, given film’s outsize role in shaping our culture and influencing thought, it’s imperative that young people of all colors, genders and sexual orientations see characters and themes they identify with on the big screen. They need to grow up knowing their stories are worthy of being told, too.
Each year as Sundance approaches, there are more than a few Parkites who sigh while considering the prospect of navigating packed roads and crowded grocery stores, a frustration heightened by the fact it can be difficult for local residents to take part in the festival. But Sundance’s efforts to ensure a diverse range of artists are included on one of the film industry’s biggest platforms makes it easier to share our town with the festival for 11 days. And it makes the story of Sundance one all Parkites can take pride in.
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