Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Sundance Film Festival Diaries
A Mission to Utah #1 (January 14)

by Richard Schwartz

Chicago, January 14, 1998 - I've been sent on a Mission to Utah.

It's my first trip to the so-called "Beehive State." My prior impressions of Utah are colored by a few unmistakable images: the toothy grin of a Donny and Marie; the watchdogged gaze of a Senator Orrin Hatch; the cocky swagger of a Karl Malone.

But this particular mission involves neither singing Mormons nor a slam-dunking Mailman. Rather, Film Scouts has assigned me to ascertain the state of contemporary independent filmmaking.

Quite naturally, I figured the Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah, might be a good starting point. Robert Redford's famed fest has always seemed a thriving marketplace and bustling bazaar of independent filmmaking, amplified by the recent success of independent features at both the box office and last year's Academy Awards.

In seeking to evaluate independent filmmaking circa 1998, I hope to explore the deeper question 'What does independent mean anyway?' And what's truly financially and/or creatively "independent" in an age when the indies' top financier is, in turn, subsidized by the Disney empire and the word "alternative" seems to denote "mainstream?"

It's just possible the answers to these tough questions may lie in the mountains of Park City. No kidding.

So, look out, Utah. Here I come.

And, oh, here's a pledge: no jokes about salt water or polygamy.

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