In 1978, a group of young film enthusiasts gathered their friends together to organise the Utah/U.S. Film Festival. The festival was held in Salt Lake City in an effort to attract more filmmakers to the area. It took place during September spanning over 7 days and occupying three cinemas. The Festival showed films, had panel discussions, and also introduced a national competition for filmmakers. The next year’s festival was again held in Salt Lake City, but in October, still containing the same attractions.
After a one-year break to re-organise, the festival returned in 1981 even bigger than ever. At the suggestion of Board member, Sydney Pollack, the Festival was moved to Park City and took place in January, which is where it remains to this day. However, the Utah/ US Film Festival were plagued with money problems. Bringing a vast amount of filmmakers together was an admirable goal, but the profit was not there.
1985 marked the most significant change in the Festival’s organisation. Able to provide the festival with financial support, year-round staff, and a network of contacts, Robert Redford, who was previously the festival’s chairman, took over as management. He expanded the festival to ten days, set up an international cinema and channel. Having Robert Redford’s name attached to the festival, helped it obtain recognition and therefore it was affectionately nicknamed the Sundance festival after his cowboy alter ego in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. This became it official title in 1991.
Since 1991, the Sundance Film Festival has become a hugely successful event which is well established within the industry and now ranks with the likes of Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Toronto.
Many independent filmmakers of our time have received their big breaks while showing movies at Sundance. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith all got their entrance into mainstream culture at Sundance. Although the festival continues to champion small films by unknown filmmakers, it has recently gained wider media attention for showcasing box office hits such as Saw, The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite.