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When you're covering a film festival and are stuck for a lede, there's one readymade that always works -- write about how you're actually attending dozens of separate festivals. Because you can only see a fraction of what's on display, you might wind up seeing a string of depressing films or maybe all comedies. Serious social interest documentaries, or forbidding formalist experimentations. You write about how at a communal event that is all about bringing people together you are alone in your own curatorial solipsism.

I'm not going to write that piece today; I've done it too many times before. But I thought of this old journalistic shortcut while talking to a filmmaker on the shuttle bus yesterday. He seemed down; from what I could tell, Sundance wasn't going his way. I murmured some encouraging words and told him that it's all about the long game, there will be more festivals, films can take time to find their audience. Etc. Later, I thought about this filmmaker when reading Brian Newman's excellent Sundance wrap-up. For Newman, looking at the festival from the perspective of new media and DIY strategy, this year's festival is all good cheer. He writes:

"But probably my favorite thing was that the mood among the DIY indies was so upbeat. People were clearly ready to make their own new system, they have the tools and case studies to help them and were, frankly, completely unafraid of the new world order. I've always hung around this crowd a bit, so I get that people have been happily doing DIY for a long time, but this time it was clear that DIY had gone mainstream. People are slowly starting to 'get it' a bit more and every single day I learned something new from a filmmaker doing something different. That's a good thing."

I thought I should ask Newman to give a pep talk to my bus-riding filmmaker friend. But then, just a few hours later, I ran into a sales rep. She said she was having a great festival. "I've never seen anything like this buying spree," she commented, saying that she was about to close on another title. Which one, I asked. You guessed it — it was the film of the filmmaker I met earlier. "He seemed kind of down," I said. "Oh, he got one bad review but all the good ones are coming out now. His film is going to be fine."

How to measure mood, the vibe of the business? Obviously, anecdotal evidence is flawed. Do we use The Wrap's scorecard (24 films sold so far)? Or perhaps something fancier is needed, a Consumer Sentiment Index of the indie film business? Something cranked out via algorithm by a team of statisticians holed up in the basement of Sundance's Marriott Headquarters. Or maybe an Indie Film National Debt Clock, ticking away at Kimball Junction? All ideas for next year...

Scott Macaulay

Editor's Note
Sundance Blog & Features
Sundance Responses
Sundance Video
In the blog, Brandon Harris gives us a look at the titles inside his critic's notebook (including The Catechism Cataclysm, pictured left), and we post our latest volunteer video, co-produced by Kenneth Cole.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.


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