In yet another case underscoring industry-wide issues of lack of transparency and unfair practices, a recent report suggests that the Sundance Film Festival may not be reviewing all of film submissions, despite charging filmmakers up to $80 per entry.
This allegation emerged when a producer, upon checking her film’s statistics on Vimeo, discovered no views had been registered. Seeking clarification, she reached out to the festival. Adam Montgomery, a senior manager and programmer at Sundance, responded—seemingly with a generic reply—asserting that Vimeo’s statistics are not always reliable and claiming the film had been viewed.
Contradictorily, hours after this email exchange, the film’s Vimeo statistics finally showed a view from the Los Angeles area, where many of the festival’s employees are based. Notably, only 54% of the film was watched. This post-inquiry viewing casts doubt on Montgomery’s assurances and suggests that the festival may not be thoroughly screening all submissions.
Simultaneously, another festival programmer, Ana Souza, wrote to the producer that the program for the 2024 festival had already been finalized, indicating that this decision was made without viewing the producer’s film.
This revelation, along with the earlier incident, substantiates the widely held belief about how film selections are conducted in major festivals. It suggests that rather than reviewing all submissions, a select few films, perhaps between 100 and 300, are handpicked for consideration by the festival team. These selections are influenced by recommendations from well-connected individuals and driven by financial interests, favoritism, nepotism, and other agendas. You can read more about these issues, here.
Finally, the producer had asked the submission fee to be refunded, but she was ignored.
This practice is an example for a broader and well known issue in regarding to the nature of power in decision-making systems: in such environments, the value of a decision-making position is amplified when the individual can exploit their power for personal gain, which is translated into social currency. In the context of film festivals, if films were chosen solely on merit, programmers would lose the ability to convert their decision-making capacity into power, and from there, financial and social gain. This social currency is crucial for gaining influence and power. By selectively favoring certain films, programmers can demonstrate to others that they hold the power to grant favors, thereby creating a self-sustaining system influence. This dynamic not only undermines the integrity of the film selection process but also discourages merit-based recognition, leading to a homogenized and less innovative film landscape.
In a not so incredible turn of events, since this article was originally published, and with the announcement of the 2024 program, it was revealed that Malia Obama, daughter of Barak Obama, made her debut in the festival. The news articles announcing of Malia’s selection made a special point of the fact that she had submitted the film “under the name Malia Ann (Ann is her middle name)”, hinting that this was done to avoid the appearance of nepotism. This is of course preposterous, and only points to the fact that the members of the film industry “syndicate” (those with contacts) are aware of the criticism pointed towards them, as well as the unethical structure of the industry, and use thinly veiled attempts to maintain ‘plausible deniability’. Rest assure that the Sundance film festival selection committee, which only watches a fraction of the films submitted to it, knew exactly who the film was by, and received numerous calls and emails informing them of its submission.
It is worth mentioning that accusations of fraud have been made against the Sundance Film Festival since at least 2011, below is an article titled “Lawsuit alleges Sundance getting too large, committing fraud” which has been published in January 2012:
The article can be accessed here:
We are actively seeking more stories and instances of such practices within the film industry. If you have information or experiences related to these issues, we encourage you to contact us. Your insights can help shed light on these practices and contribute to fostering a more equitable and diverse film industry.
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