The Greenwich International Film Festival went down to Park City, Utah to attend the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The festival ran from January 18 to January 28. The Institute highlights independent storytelling from all film categories. President and Founder of Sundance, Robert Redford, said he hopes the festival provokes emotion and a deeper connection for viewers to these selected films. We spoke with Sam Kleiner, GIFF programmer, to discuss his experience and takeaways from the festival.
GIFF: Tell me about the environment at Sundance. What was it like being there?
Sam Kleiner: Sundance is a high energy Festival. You can feel the excitement as soon as you get to Park City. Filmmakers are thrilled to have their work in competition and to be able to premiere their projects to public audiences for the first time. Distributors are hoping to buy a film that will win an Oscar a year later. Journalists are buzzing around catching films and giving interviews to talent, sharing their voice with the rest of the world who were not in attendance at the Festival. Other programmers, like me, are there as well to try and see as many films as possible in the hopes that they might experience something that would be a perfect fit for their Festival back home. It creates a very interesting mash up of people in the industry who are all there for different reasons but are united in their love of film.
GIFF: What types of films did you see that really stuck out?
Sam Kleiner: Four films that really stuck out to me were: The Kindergarten Teacher, a film where a teacher, Maggie Gyllenhaal, becomes obsessed with one of her prodigious kindergarten students. Eighth Grade, a film about a struggling eighth grader navigating her last couple weeks of middle school before she graduates. A Woman Captured, a beautiful documentary about a woman who escapes modern day slavery, and Generation Wealth which is a documentary about the importance and sway of materialism on our global community. All of these films I personally enjoyed but also found them to be a great fit for our Festival.
GIFF: How was Sundance different than other film festivals you have been to?
Sam Kleiner: Sundance is different than other Festivals I have been to because of the level of prestige and quality of world premieres that are shown to audiences. I also really like Sundance because they go out of their way to celebrate emerging filmmakers. A lot of Festivals get stuck only showing noteworthy auteurs. I think Sundance is phenomenal with their discovery of new voices in the industry. Sundance is also at the beginning of the year so it really sets the tone and shows themes that you can expect from the rest of the Festivals throughout the year.
GIFF: What do you look for when choosing which films to include in our festival?
Sam Kleiner: GIFF’s program is special in that we make Social Impact Films a priority in our final lineup – over half of our slate of selected films has a social message that brings awareness to a specific issue and inspires action. At GIFF, we try to highlight diverse stories with diverse casts -we celebrate female directors, directors of color, foreign directors, and any voices that have been marginalized in the film community. In light of recent events, this year we specifically want to celebrate the female voice. This year, I was on the lookout for social impact films as well as female directed films that celebrate empowerment and equality.
GIFF: At any of the panels you attended, what was your favorite?
Sam Kleiner: I see back to back films, so I unfortunately didn’t have time to escape the theatre and see a panel this year. Colleen, our Founder and Director or Programming, had a chance to see a panel called Behind the Camera: Where Diversity Begins which was a discussion that called for a more inclusive entertainment industry. The panelists, including Ashley Judd and GIFF board member Darnell Strom, discussed that one way to increase diversity in front of the camera is to hire diversity behind it. Colleen really enjoyed this panel and found it very inspiring as we start to design our own panels for the Festival weekend.
GIFF: What were some of your takeaways from the festival?
Sam Kleiner: Sundance did a fantastic job of programming female directed films this year (over 1/3 of their final lineup of films was directed by a woman). I saw more female directed films this year at Sundance than at any other film festival I have ever attended thus far. It was so inspiring to see these marginalized voices celebrated, and it has inspired our team to also program as many female directed films as possibly at GIFF 2018.