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Students go behind the scenes at Sundance to engage with filmmakers

ASU student interns outside Sundance Film Festival headquarters, 2012
February 29, 2012

Seven students in the English Department’s film and media studies program (FMS) attended the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as part of a new Arizona State University internship.

The internship program is the first of its kind – a collaboration between ASU and Sundance to grant students access to a unique career development opportunity.

“In attending the Sundance Film Festival, students learned the inner workings of one of the most important film festivals in the world,” says Kevin Sandler, associate professor, who coordinates internships for the program. “Whether students want to work at film festivals, be filmmakers themselves, or be the executives who purchase the independent films for distribution, Department of English students learn first hand the art and business of contemporary filmmaking. 

"Important, and not to be overlooked," Sandler adds, "are the networking opportunities with people in the film industry, which may help students to secure themselves jobs after graduation.”

The largest independent film festival in the United States, Sundance is a showcase and competition for new American and international independent films.

As student volunteers for the second half of the 10-day festival (that took place Jan. 24-29) ASU's film and media studies participants helped usher, take tickets, manage lines, and ensure efficient entry and exit of the theaters. In exchange, they were given free access to the festival’s film screenings and filmmaker panels.

“The panels were held in small, intimate spaces,” says Christopher Bradley, a lecturer in the program, who served as a chaperone on the trip. “The panelists were filmmakers these students had idolized for years, often filmmakers whose films the students had just seen.

“The filmmakers were friendly, open and ready to answer any questions our students had – eager to share their information and wisdom. I’m not sure there’s anywhere else on earth where our students could experience this kind of concentrated access to established independent film figures.”

Della Anderson, a senior film and media studies major, considers herself lucky to have participated in the festival and seen Sundance films, such as “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The House I Live In” and “Safety Not Guaranteed.”

“Viewing films not made with Hollywood budgets and high-profile actors and actresses was a nice change from going to a regular movie theater, and the whole experience made my dreams of working in the entertainment industry seem much more tangible,” Anderson says.

Demystifying work in the film industry was one goal of the internship, explains Bradley.

“The trip wasn’t just about gathering information,” he says. “It was also about making the film world less intimidating, seeing that these filmmakers were real people – people who know a lot, but who are still learning themselves. It was about seeing great independent films and being inspired.

“Sundance gave our students a chance to see that many filmmakers aren’t that much older, or richer, or smarter, or better connected than they are. It showed our students in concrete terms, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Student Adriana DiMatteo says she feels empowered to pursue her own work after her experience in Park City.

"Sundance was exhausting, crazy, fun, super busy, cold, but most of all it was an experience of a lifetime. I can't wait to go back (and hopefully one day with a film of my own in Sundance)."

Written by Carrie Grant

Media contact:
Kristen LaRue,
Department of English
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences