For all intents and purposes, the modern American New Wave in filmmaking - perhaps better known as the Indie Movement - took root at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival where Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" efficiently disarmed everyone and set a new, more lucrative standard for independent filmmaking.
Soderbergh's effort was that rare film that actually lived up to its clever, oh-so-provocative, attention-grabbing title.
True, America already had a history of independent filmmaking, especially visible in the the 1950s and '60s, but it was a conspicuously spotty one. Frank Perry and John Sayles made small, pleasing strides, while the Mirisch Brothers did autonomous alt flicks with major filmmakers for a major studio, United Artists. And, of course, there was John Cassavetes, who managed to straddle both worlds, two cinematic climates.
For the past 20 years, independent film - and by extension the assorted film festivals that showcase it - soared, both predictably co-opted and compromised by mainstream Hollywood. The films themselves were a novelty; the festivals, well, just another studio marketing tool.
But all good things come to an end. Miramax, the trendiest mini-major of the era, isn't what it used to be and its founders, the Weinstein Brothers, seem much less high-profile and less influential these days. One by one, the majors have dismantled their boutiques which specialized in, well, specialized movies, and films festivals have grown so ubiquitous and so hulking that most of what they now invariably screen is, frankly, crap.
Which brings us back to The Sundance Film Festival, which takes up residence in Park City, Utah.
Much has been written in the past year or so about how its cinematic glow has dimmed and how studios repeatedly get burned trying to outbid one another for films that play well in a festival setting but are usually dead on arrival in art houses. Two outright Sundance successes, and only two, come to mind - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) and Jason Reitman's "Juno" (2007), both picked up and distributed by Fox Searchlight, the one studio subsidiary that hasn't lost its way.
Or its glow.
Sundance 2009 is busy preparing for its annual festivities (15-25 January, 2009) and the studios and some of the press, still in denial, are scurrying to participate. All of this despite California's Proposition 8.
As you are probably aware, Proposition 8, known variously also as the Limit on Marriage Amendment or the California Marriage Protection Act, won in California, overturning a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, reportedly invested heavily in support of the proposition, urging California Mormons to get involved.
Some of the opponents of Proposition 8 - count me in - have suggested boycotting Utah in general and, because it is supported by the California-based studios, The Sundance Film Festival in particular. Sound idea?
Or fuzzy thinking?
Maybe this would be a good time for The Sundance Film Festival to take a break, regroup and retool. It runs the risk of being left behind - I mean, given that the American New Wave appears to be dead, stone cold dead.
(Artwork: Park City, Utah, the location of The Sundance Film Festival)