Hollywood strikes and AI loom large as Sundance Film Festival kicks off 40th year. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Hollywood strikes and AI loom large as Sundance Film Festival kicks off 40th year. 

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click to enlarge (L-R) Jason Blum, Joana Vicente, Eugene Hernandez and Kim Yutani take questions at an opening-day press conference for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 18. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • (L-R) Jason Blum, Joana Vicente, Eugene Hernandez and Kim Yutani take questions at an opening-day press conference for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 18.

PARK CITY—Top organizers of the annual Sundance Film Festival were characteristically effusive on Thursday, praising the vision, craft and commentary depicted in the slate of movies screening in Utah over the next 10 days.

But coming after a year that saw the pipeline of conventionally-produced entertainment throttled by workforce strikes, festival heads reiterated another point about the independent films making their debut in the mountains: the vast majority of titles are for sale.

"The [movie] release schedule for the first half of the year is decimated," said film producer and Sundance board member Jason Blum. "The [acquisition] market should be very healthy."

Blum, who has experienced both selling and purchasing films at Sundance, moderated an opening-day panel and press conference with festival director Eugene Hernandez, programming director Kim Yutani and Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente. Blum noted that in addition to boosting demand for independent titles, having fewer films move through the Hollywood pipeline can also create space for work to succeed that might otherwise struggle to compete against blockbuster competition.

"The one positive thing about the strike is a lot of movies that might have struggled, shouldn't," he said, "because there’s so many holes in the release schedule."

Hernandez said that ahead of the festival's launch, he had heard from distributors who were enthusiastic about connecting with filmmakers and pursuing films. And he added that the 2024 selections are strong, suggesting that every title in the festival program is poised to connect with audiences.

"Each of these films is ready for their moment," Hernandez said. "We have a program that is ready."

This year's event is the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and the programming includes several nods to the past, including screenings of films that previously premiered during Sundance and special tributes to festival veterans like actress Kristen Stewart and director Christopher Nolan.

Organizers also suggested the anniversary year is an invitation to look to the future, with films, panels and presentations that embrace multi-media storytelling and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, or AI. Hernandez noted one film, Eno, which is described as a "generative documentary" and uses algorithmic tools to piece together a unique combination of interview and archive footage related to musician Brian Eno.

"It will be a different experience every time it plays here at the festival," Hernandez said. "Creators are using and collaborating with AI technology to empower aspects of the filmmaking process."

With the explosion of tools like ChatGPT and other generative softward, the question of AI's application in the creative arts has grown increasingly thorny and was, in fact, a key plank of the demands animating last year's entertainment industry strikes. Vicente acknowledged those concerns, adding that Sundance sees value in AI as a tool to empower, but not to replace, artists.

"We’re all about protecting the creators and that’s essential," Vicente said. "But it’s also exciting to see [AI] used as a tool, and that’s a great tool for independent filmmakers who don’t have as many means as studios."

The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 18 to Jan. 28 with events and screenings in Park City and Salt Lake City. The second half of the festival will add the option of online, remote screenings, with this year's event landing somewhere between the fully in-person festival of the past and the hybrid formats of recent COVID-impacted years.

"Park City is not the easiest place in the world to get to—it's a little snowy," Blum said. "I think it's great that we've made this experience a little bit more accessible."

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About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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