Holding Space for First-Time Filmmakers: An Interview with Sundance
While the Sundance Institute is consistently looking for new ways to innovate and maintain their status as one of the leading voices introducing exciting and evocative cinema, one of their primary missions remains being a platform for up-and-coming storytellers. SLUG spoke with Heidi Zwicker, a Senior Programmer with the Sundance Institute, to speak on the 40th Edition festival season and its intention to support a variety of artists.
SLUG: How long have you been a programmer for the Sundance Film Festival and what does that role entail? What does the process look like when selecting a film to include in the festival?
Zwicker: I’ve been a member of the Sundance Film Festival programming team since 2010. Part of our job is to track emerging artists and their works. Then it’s a matter of watching and considering the films submitted to us and discussing with my colleagues to craft a program. We discuss all finalists together as a programming team, so there’s a group of people with many different backgrounds and perspectives putting together the final festival program.
SLUG: Can you tell us a bit more about Sundance’s mission to support emerging artists and how that’s reflected in the 2024 Sundance Film Festival Program?
Zwicker: We absolutely consider ourselves a festival of discovery, as supporting new and independent voices and works is at the heart of the work we do as a nonprofit organization. Our overall program includes works by artists at all experience levels, but about 40% of the features in our 2024 Sundance Film Festival lineup are by first-time filmmakers. In our U.S. Dramatic Competition the number is even higher, with 70% of the films in the program by first-time filmmakers.
“The visual language of cinema is constantly evolving, which contributes to how those artists approach filmmaking.”
SLUG: How does curating a more diverse array of budding filmmakers as well as those who are more experienced enhance the festival?
Zwicker: Sundance’s focus of supporting artists at all levels of their career who are continuing to take chances and tell fresh, original stories from a place of authenticity is what makes the festival program so vital and dynamic.
SLUG: What fresh or unique perspective are newer filmmakers bringing to the festival this season?
Zwicker: The voices and styles of our emerging filmmakers are incredibly varied and the visual language of cinema is constantly evolving, which contributes to how those artists approach filmmaking. For example, the filmmakers for Seeking Mavis Beacon [dir. Jazmin Renée Jones] and Dìdi (弟弟) [dir. Sean Wang] share fresh perspectives and voices that we are excited to share with audiences at the festival this year.
SLUG: Were there any filmmaking trends, tropes or motifs that you found were common in submissions this season?
Zwicker: It’s always exciting to see what filmmakers are discovering and focusing their work on in a given year. We saw a lot of exciting films about technology and A.I. this year but also new perspectives on age-old themes like family, friendship and tradition.
SLUG: Are there any specific films in this festival’s program that you feel are breaking the mold on genre-norms and traditional film perspectives or styles that we should look out for?
Zwicker: For breaking out of genre-norms, I have to recommend the films in our NEXT section. It’s really a section for innovation, and I’m especially excited by the creativity of both the fiction and documentary artists this year.
“We absolutely consider ourselves a festival of discovery, as supporting new and independent voices and works is at the heart of the work we do as a nonprofit organization.”
SLUG: What are you most excited about for the upcoming 40th Edition of the festival?
Zwicker: I’m really excited about bringing back so many of the filmmakers and alumni who are a central part of our legacy and watching them interact with the new class of 2024. That’s the kind of creative connection that festivals are ideally suited to support.
Check out the entire lineup of films at festival.sundance.org to read more about Sundance’s diverse selection of storytellers this season, and be sure to grab your tickets and support emerging cinema in-person at the festival from January 18–25 in Salt Lake and Park City.