Originally the Utah Film Festival, it was first held in Salt Lake City, in 1978 by the Utah Film Commission, as a way to lure tourists to the state.

Moved to Park City in 1981, Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute (established in 1981 to help young filmmakers and explore all aspects of the movie industry) took over in 1985. In 1991 it was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival. First premiered at Sundance, Steven Soderbergh’s film “Sex, Lies and Videotape” made a name for the festival after it went on to become a box office hit. Taking place every January for eleven days, Sundance has remained one of the top film festivals in the world.

Now prone to bashing from some members of the independent film community, alternatives to Sundance, such as Slamdance and Lapdance (the latter has been loudly championed by South Park creator's Trey Parker and Matt Stone) offer up more risqué and, according to its participants, “edgy” films.

A couple weeks ago, I attended the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. As a second-time attendee, I found this festival more satisfying than the last since I didn’t have to worry as much about logistics. The previous year’s experience taught me the ropes, and this year I was simply able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Like most film festivals, my itinerary included a diverse array of films, ranging from the bizarre, the breathtaking, to the downright tear-jerking. The highlights of my experience included the following:

- Wish You Were Here: This was the first movie I saw and the only movie I viewed solo, without my group of friends. An Australian film, Wish You Were Here was a thrilling and mysterious story of a man and his wife who go on vacation with his wife’s sister and her new boyfriend. The story begins with the couples’ return, without the boyfriend who went missing on the trip, and it is peppered with flashbacks of the vacation. As the film progresses, we realize the husband is harboring a secret about the trip from his wife and his sister-in-law. The two great shocks of the movie occur when we realize why the husband and his wife’s marriage is falling apart and what actually happened to the sister-in-law’s boyfriend during the trip. A gripping story about family, intercultural relations, and how destructive secrets can actually be, Wish You Were Here was haunting and surprising.

- The Orator: I had a hard time staying awake during this film. Yes, it was early in the morning, but it was also impossibly slow. The primary element that kept me engaged was the fact that I had to read subtitles, as the characters spoke entirely in Samoan. It features a Samoan dwarf who lives in a village, and he is faced with the hardships of village life and his physical condition. Spoiler alert: The most depressing scene occurs when the man has to dig his wife’s grave, falls in, and almost drowns in it during a vicious storm. The Orator was a tough way to start a day of movie viewing.

- Wuthering Heights: Though a fan of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, I hadn’t read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights before seeing this movie. Being fairly familiar with the book’s premise, I found that the filmmaker made an interesting and more modern choice by casting a black actor in the role of Heathcliff and changing the character’s background slightly by making him a slave/house servant to the Earnshaw family. Like The Orator, Wuthering Heights was long, dark, and fairly non-redemptive. It was probably my least favorite film of the festival.

- 1/2 Revolution: This “accidental” documentary about the Egyptian uprising last January was the most powerful movie I saw at the festival. Two filmmakers living near Tahrir Square in Cairo caught seven days of the Egyptian uprising on camera. One filmmaker was a thirty-something American-raised Egyptian who moved back to be close to his father and raise his new family (he had a toddler with his wife), and the other was an equally-young European-raised Palestinian who had lived in Cairo for awhile. They began filming on day one of the uprising, and their film covers the confusion and fear among their friends and family during the initial days, and it also ventures out into the streets to cover some of the more inflammatory and gruesome moments of the protests. This film gave significance and life to a story that most Americans only experienced through nightly news. The title ½ Revolution comes from the filmmakers’ viewpoint that the uprising did not go far enough to enact any real change in Egypt.

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