Why you should care

Because this is where you can see the films that could break big this year.

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WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? The Sundance Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film festival in the United States, kicked off this week in Park City, Utah. More than 100 films will be screened for film lovers, critics and industry experts who have traveled from around the world to the small mountain town 30 miles east of Salt Lake City. They’ll try to take in as many films as possible, hobnob over hot drinks and look for the next blockbuster or star.

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A general view of the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Source David Becker/Getty

Why does it matter? Movies will be buzzed about and bought. Many of the coming year’s most beloved films will debut here. New independent films will find an audience, and some independent filmmakers will find a career. Classics like Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine and Reservoir Dogs all debuted at the festival. Last year, The Big Sick screened with little expectation — only to become a huge success. Sure, it’s unpredictable, but that’s part of the rush for filmgoers hoping to see a masterpiece before the rest of the world.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

This isn’t their first rodeo. Founded in 1978 in Salt Lake City as the Utah/US Film Festival, Sundance has gone through some changes. Since 1984, it’s been run by the Sundance Institute, founded by actor Robert Redford to support independent film and periphery arts, and the name of the festival comes from Redford’s character in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Last year, more than 70,000 people attended. This year’s 110 feature films were selected by judges from out of 3,901 submissions and represent 29 countries and 47 first-time filmmakers.

There are new players in town. In the olden days, big studio production companies were the only buyers — and only hope — for independently produced films screened at the festival. Now, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon not only provide an opportunity for films not snatched up for theatrical release, but they are also competing with traditional distribution companies. The Grand Jury Prize winner last year, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, was bought and released by Netflix.

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Scott and Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers perform during the American Epic premiere in 2016.

Source Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

All movies are political. Disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein will be the elephant in many a room. After all, Sundance, where Weinstein and his production company were major players, was where actress Rose McGowan alleges Weinstein raped her. In his opening remarks, Redford called out Weinstein by name and said, “The role for men right now would be to listen.” There is a Respect Rally planned for this weekend, and the festival has a new code of conduct, with emphasis on sexual harassment and a 24-hour hotline to report violations.

It’s not all about film. Sundance is now open to music performances, panel discussions, art installations and high-tech demonstrations. The festival’s New Frontier program boasts works of AI, augmented reality and virtual reality storytelling for curious visitors. And then there is the invasion of corporate marketers spilling swag across Park City’s cobblestones. No one leaves without a sticker.

WHAT TO READ

Netflix and Amazon Are Now Firmly in the Sundance Film Festival Family, by Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times

“… Netflix views a festival like Sundance much as a more traditional distributor does — as both a launching pad for titles and a vehicle for discovering new movies to acquire and new filmmakers to work with in the future.”

10 Buzziest Films at Sundance Film Festival 2018, by Brent Lang at Variety

A number of films heading to the festival are already generating heat, sight unseen.”

WHAT TO WATCH

How the Sundance Film Festival Works

Just because you get to Park City, just because you have the credentials, it doesn’t mean you can see the movies you’re dying to see. It’s hard to get into some of these theaters and see some of the hottest tickets here.”

Watch CNNMoney on YouTube:

The Sundance Swag Festival

Over the years, Sundance has become home to a host of cottage industries, including what is diplomatically known as the ‘gifting lounge.’ ”

Watch on The New York Times:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Following cues by festivals in Toronto and Austin, Sundance has added the “episodic indie” category — because everyone knows TV has become just as good as movies. The festival has been showcasing television programs for years, but now the form finally has a home. Yet another way streaming services have changed the game.

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