It’s Sundance season, kids! Bring on the Ugg boots, tiny pants, sexy Redford crags…and “films that are obscene and contrary to [Utah taxpayers’] values.” Or so says conservative Utah think tank the Sutherland Institute in a blog post last Friday (January 18). Sutherland is urging Utah state officials–who were, at press time, busy taking Uncle Scrooge-style dives in piles of cash, thanks to the 80 MILLION DOLLARS Sundance brings to Utah every year–to withdraw support of the festival. This year’s fest, says Sutherland
killjoy spokesman Derek Monson, is brimming with films promoting promiscuity, pornography, and other dastardly “p” words!
Now, I’m not here to pick on people whose tastes don’t veer to the Sundance end of the spectrum. Since its beginnings in Park City, Utah in 1981, Robert Redford’s independent film fest has tried to push the boundaries, which sometimes means dealing with sexual taboos. Natch.
I mean, this is the festival that made its name on the shoulders of a movie titled Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
And while Sundance has played a pivotal role in bringing forth great films from Clerks to Memento to Little Miss Sunshine to Beasts of the Southern Wild, it has also brought us its fair share of total crap. So I wouldn’t argue with Mr. Monson or his conservative counterparts that Sundance should be their cup of tea, or that Sundance reflects the values of their conservative neighbors and friends in the typically conservative state of Utah. But I would argue that 2013 can’t possibly be the first time that Mr. Monson and his Sutherland cohorts could have had a problem with Sundance. And it’s frankly irrelevant that this year’s festival features a Linda Lovelace (of Deep Throat fame) biopic, a James Franco vehicle titled Kink, and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s buzzy Don Jon’s Addiction (a movie I haven’t seen but have to assume is hellbent on convincing me that Joseph Gordon Levitt isn’t Justin Long).
Nope. Sundance–and indie films more broadly–have ALWAYS dealt in the grit and sex and drugs (and Joseph Gordon Levitts) that weren’t quite ready (or, rather, suitable) for prime time. Independent film has a multi-faceted legacy, and one of those facets is poon tang. From B-movies to stag films to John Carpenter’s Halloween — it ain’t all art house. So why on Earth would Sutherland pick THIS year to stake their claim in the culture wars over an insanely popular, lucrative film festival?
Could it be because an unprecedented number of female directors are on the scene? And that Sundance has become one of the (if not the) primary vehicle for success for female filmmakers?
This year Sundance is lousy with woman directors. And thank goodness.
The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism tells us that, over the past a decade, we haven’t seen much if any growth of the number of females in the cohort of top-grossing filmmakers. But of the top-grossing Hollywood films of the last 11 years, 4.4% were directed by women.
40% of those came through Sundance.
Well, you heard it here first. I call “conspiracy theory!”
It seems reasonable to surmise that conservative leaders in a state influenced by a church that appears to prioritize women’s roles as mothers, wives, and homemakers (all honorable roles, I should add) might have a problem with a festival promoting women in power. I think sex is just an excuse, an easy out. Because the truth is, Sundance has only truly changed in terms of its size and number of women — its emphasis on sex and sexuality has remained relatively constant over 30 years. So unless the Sutherland Institute is complaining about overcrowding, I’d say their campaign is just a little bit about sex, and a whole lot about sexism.