The 2015 Sundance Film Festival lineup proved to be the perfect response to #OscarsSoWhite. The independent film festival represented life in the 21st century far better than the Academy nominations, which primarily featured heterosexual white men and women.
Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford noted this on opening night. “We believe in diversity, and freedom of expression is very much fundamental to us,” Redford said according to the Associated Press. “You see films here that are going to upset other people, but that’s okay. We will do everything in our power to keep (diversity) alive here.”
Crowds flocked to films and panels showcasing diversity. Filmgoers overflowed the premiere of “Dope,” leaving some ticketholders without seats at the Library Centre Theatre. “Dope” chronicles three inner city outcasts’ adventures after they’re invited to a drug dealer’s birthday party.
When writer and director Rick Famuyiwa and his production partners, Forest Whittaker and Pharrell Williams, first introduced the film to Hollywood studios, there was limited interest.
“I don’t know if there’s a recognition on the part of those who make these decisions that we’re living in a world that doesn’t look like what’s being reflected on screen,” Famuyiwa said, according to the ?Associated Press.
Sundance challenges the typically white-washed industry through its Diversity Initiative, which contributed files for the report “Race & Ethnicity in Independent Films: Prevalence of Underrepresented Directors and the Barriers They Face produced” from the University of Southern California.
The report found that only 10.7 percent of directors were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups amongst 700 top grossing Hollywood films from 2006 to 2012.
In comparison, representation of minority directors was almost double at ?Sundance. Based on films shown between 2002 and 2013, ?20.1 percent of directors at Sundance were of a minority background.
Sundance was also home to a variety of kickass ladies both on and off screen this year.
As part of Sundance’s Women’s Initiative, the ultimate girl power ensemble was assembled for the Power of Story: Serious Ladies panel. Writers, directors and feminist extraordinaires Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Kristin Wiig and Jenji Kohan joined forces to discuss anti-heroes, archetypes and women in the industry.
Based on Sundance’s research project “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers Phase I and II,” female directors at Sundance outnumbered their Hollywood counterparts by 48.1 percent in 2013.
There was plenty of room for women in front of the camera as well. The midnight premiere of “Reversal” was packed with fans eager to see kidnapping victim, Eve, regain control of her life as she captured her kidnapper and rescued his other victims.
Sundance raised the bar not only in content but also in storytelling technique. Fan favorite “Tangerine” features two Californian transgender prostitutes roaming Santa Monica Boulevard. Director Sean Baker filmed exclusively on iPhone 5s’s as part of the Next section, which focuses on forward-thinking creativity and storytelling in a digital landscape.
“The pipeline of young talent interested in telling stories is there, but somewhere along the way, they fall out of the business equation, of getting that work made,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute, according to the Associated Press. “So as money comes into the equation, diversity — whether it’s gender or racial and ethnic diversity — seems to step out.”
If nothing else, these packed theatres, overflowing lines and overenthusiastic fans at Sundance show we’re yearning for these new innovative storytellers to be in the equation. Here’s hoping the Academy starts ?recalculating.