The ultimate intersection of marked individualism, tawdry glitz, prideful expression, industry jockeying and – lest we forget – high-brow cinema rests somewhere between Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, Utah.  Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival has become an institution of modern filmmaking because it’s brand has become synonymous with the distribution of independent film.

Over that past few years, we’ve watched the Sundance Film Festival’s web presence transform from a promotional publication to an expansive, interactive extension of the festival that – though a far cry from the madness in Utah – has, itself, become a celebration of speech and the spirit of creativity…and some of the glitz too. 

It’s a good website with a lot of cool content, but it does leave a lot to be desired.  The festival is an excellent avenue for independent filmmakers to showcase and distribute their work, just not digitally.

###The user experience is sub-par for a content and talent-rich website in 2008.  Videos can’t be embedded in blogs, and they don’t toggle to full screen.  Instead of creating a rich, contextual multi-media experience unique to the web, Sundance attempts to mimic the experience of old TV by sequestering much video content in a special vault of its own.  And, unfortunately, the website is no substitute for the festival itself. 

There’s a comprehensive list of full-length festival films, but none are actually featured on the website.  Not even trailers.  Even showcased short films, which in the past were available on-demand for several weeks before and after the event, have a small, 24-hour viewing window. 

Putting Sundance films online, after all, is not yet kosher.  Films are meant to be savored with an audience of uninterrupted concentration blanketed by intense connection and emotion.  They are not meant to be blithely consumed on silicon-studded screens marred with distraction.  At least that’s what the festival organizers seem to think.

What the website does do well is show videos about the films, the conversation surrounding the process of creating and sharing, which are highly engaging for any media-creator.  And for those who wish to endavour some semblance of the cinematic experience, Sundance has expertly incorporated various horizontal media-delivery platforms such as Netflix, XBox and iTunes to give consumers flexibility and choice…for a small fee.

I understand that Sundance wants to maintain control of its brand, but by holding onto all its content, it’s missing an opportunity to gain internet relevancy.  It doesn’t need to release much to the digital masses (and I’m guessing a problem with distribution rights would come into play).  Allowing viewers to embed and send around festival footage and conversations with the artists would be an easy way to create interest and gain exposure.  But maybe Sundance is snobby like David Lynch and only wants movies to be viewed in theaters.  If so, screw ’em.  There’s always From Here to Awesome.

For those who want a taste of the festival in all its nitty-gritty glory, live vicariously through Eric Beck and Justin Johnson of Indy Mogul who are capturing the events and meeting with some big name creative types. 

Damn, I wish I was there….

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