/Answers: Our Favorite Sundance Movies

Clerks TV show pilot

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this week’s edition, we celebrate the start of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival by asking “What is your favorite movie to have come out of Sundance?”

Peter Sciretta: Clerks

Clerks isn’t the best film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and it’s not even technically my favorite Sundance film (despite the title of this edition of /Answers), but to me, it is the film that most represents the festival to me. Kevin Smith produced the film on credit cards, filming it overnight in the shop where he worked with a crew of his friends and a very small cast. Before Clerks and Slacker, this kind of story didn’t exist at the cinema for me. Seeing it for the first time was a breakthrough, a realization that movies could be something completely different than what I had been used to seeing at my local multiplex.

As an aspiring filmmaker, it was inspiring that someone with a dream could bring it to fruition themselves, without decision-makers at studios calling the shots. This festival gave crazy low budget films like this a spotlight, a chance to be discovered by the industry. To me, this is the exciting promise of Sundance.

These days, the festival is filled with bigger movie premieres with more famous filmmakers and stars, but the NEXT competition still champions the micro-budget movies and gives young filmmakers the platform to showcase their unique stories.

Vanessa Bogart: Reservoir Dogs

Picking a favorite movie that came out of Sundance is like picking a favorite child. There are so many to choose from, that choosing just one seems damn near impossible. However, as I kept going over and over the running list of options in my head, I kept coming back to Reservoir Dogs.

Quentin Tarantino is one of those directors, if not the director, that made me want to work in film. He is arguably one of the most iconic directors of this generation, and with all of the news headlines about his current project, it seems that people get as excited about the next Tarantino picture as they do about the next Marvel movie. He is a director that even non-film buffs know by name, and it all began at Sundance with his first feature length film, Reservoir Dogs.

I may be favoring it for my answer because of it’s ripple effect, but Reservoir Dogs itself is a classic, even without the list of revolutionary films that followed in Tarantino’s career. It is a benchmark in the history of the modern arthouse and independent film industry, and I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to “Stuck In The Middle With You” without cringing.

Ben Pearson: Brick

Rian Johnson’s 2005 feature debut Brick represents everything I love about the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a unique vision from an exciting new filmmaker with a cool and unexpected conceit (a noir mystery set in a modern high school), and it features a breakout performance from an actor that made me reexamine what I thought I knew about him. I love being surprised by actors who show me a whole new facet of what they can do, and for me, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just that kid from Angels in the Outfield and Third Rock From the Sun before I saw him here. His Brendan is a slouched, haunted, hard-nosed kid who refuses to give up – a far cry from the cheery persona for which he was previously known.

There’s also a scrappiness and shagginess to this film that feels very “Sundance” to me. Johnson edited the movie himself on his personal Mac. Limited by his budget, he was forced to shape the film as best he could with what he had, which resulted in scenes like a chase that plays out with the only sounds being the participants’ footsteps (although it ends with a clang that still reverberates in my head to this day). It’s a testament to Johnson’s writing that he’s able to make this cinematic world feel so specific and singular, and his economic storytelling choices and artful eye on display in Brick put him on the map in a big way. He instantly became one of my favorite filmmakers, and it all started with this little indie movie that debuted in Park City.

Ethan Anderton: Once

Once is a true indie that captures the spirit of the Sundance Film Festival. Made for $160,000, the film from director John Carney was a breakthrough movie for the filmmaker, complete with an incredible soundtrack by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. In fact, the soundtrack was so amazing that the duo went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, and it was so popular that it has since been turned into a hit Broadway musical.

What I love about Once is that while it’s a movie about an aspiring musician who throws himself entirely into his passion for music, you could easily apply that same mentality to filmmaking, and that’s really what Sundance is all about. So many filmmakers pour their heart and wallet into a movie, and a selection by Sundance can make their wildest dreams come true. If there’s any doubt of that, Steven Spielberg said of Once that it gave him “enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

Once is exactly the kind of movie that you hope to discover at Sundance, and it’s the kind of movie that you hope kicks off the career of a filmmaker who you’ll love for years to come. Since John Carney went on to make Sing Street, another Sundance favorite of mine, I’m happy to say that Once was just the beginning of my love for the filmmaker’s work, and I hope to love more of Carney’s films in the future.

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