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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 08:21 GMT
Talent-spotting at Sundance
Robert Redford
Robert Redford founded the festival in 1981
As the Sundance film festival starts its 21st year, BBC News Online profiles one of the most adventurous and iconic celebrations of independent film-making in the world.

Cannes may have the glamour, Venice may have the canals but the Sundance film festival remains a mecca for film lovers.

For two decades the best of new talent has been shown in the small town in the depths of Utah.

Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Ross
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a huge hit
Thousands of films each year are put forward for selection with just a handful selected for competition, in categories ranging from drama to short films, documentary and now online films.

Often, without fanfare, a clutch go forward to establish themselves as classics.

In recent years, Sundance has been the launchpad for movies such as Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Blair Witch Project and You Can Count On Me.

In the Bedroom, one of the films tipped for success in 2002 at the Oscars, was showcased at last year's festival.

Often quirky and irreverent, always challenging, the festival programme attracts a wealth of talent spotters.

Agents and distributors put on their thickest winter clothing and head for Utah, hoping to uncover a new Steven Soderbergh.

The festival is the brainchild of Robert Redford.

Popular belief

Redford first fell in love with the North Fork of Provo Canyon in the early 1960s when visiting with his then wife.

He purchased the resort in 1969, renaming it Sundance.

The popular belief is that he named the resort after his role in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Redford has denied this, saying it was because of the way the sun literally "danced" in the valley.

But there is a cottage, Etta's Hideaway, named after Katherine Ross' character in the 1969 film, and a saddle featured in the movie hangs in the resort's Owl Bar.

Twelve years later Redford established the festival, aiming to revitalise independent American film making.


From humble beginings, the prominence of sponsors such as Mercedes Benz, Coca Cola, and American Express, show how far it has come.

Indeed, the festival has been criticised in some quarters for falling for the lure of celebrities, yet its championing of the non-commercial and off-beat remains strong.

"No stars! No action! No sex! No color!" was the poster for one film at the festival in 1999, humerously capturing the fiercely independent spirit of the event.

But mainstream films do come to Sundance, often looking for a buyer.

Last year UK thriller Enigma was shown at the event, with producer Mick Jagger on the lookout for a distributor.

He found one and the film went on to do well at the British box office.

The Sundance Institute now runs programs which support almost every aspect of film making, from screenwriting to music.

  • The Sundance Film Festival runs from 10 to 20 January.
  • See also:

    28 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    Believer wins at Sundance
    26 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    The buzz at Sundance
    18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    Sun rises on Redford's festival
    09 Jan 02 | Showbiz
    Redford rejects cosmetic surgery
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