POV (Perspective)
The Evolution of Sundance and Why I Still Attend
  • Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018
Tasha Cronin, co-director, interactive, at Droga5

After graduating from film school, I began my career in acquisitions and development for an independent film distributor. I spent a good portion of my time traveling to festivals around the world, scouting new talent and screening films to buy for distribution. Now, having made the transition to interactive and experiential production within the advertising industry, my purposes for attending festivals such as Sundance are slightly different: to understand how the latest crop of talent uses emerging technologies to tell their stories and to discover how brands are immersing themselves within established cultural events.

Interactive Storytelling Becomes Less and Less on the Fringe
Beyond showcasing the best in independent cinema, Sundance now includes a New Frontier section that is dedicated to interactive, VR and AR storytelling. As my day-to-day responsibilities include developing relationships with artists, production and hardware companies to keep tabs on the latest trends, I often view the latest work in the vacuum of an agency conference room. So I relish the opportunity to engage with the pieces within the art-directed spaces, as the director intended, and then immediately chat with her. Screening a multitude of projects next to their creators is an experience that only a festival can provide. 

Latest Creations on Display
Since VR and AR are in their infancy as storytelling methods, it’s not unusual for the teams behind these projects to develop their own proprietary software and hardware. Sundance offers a platform that showcases not only the latest creations but also the methods by which they are created. Sundance gives industry attendees a deep dive into the latest technology and sends us back to the office eager to share what we’ve learned with our production and creative teams. Sundance gathers the best and the brightest of traditional and nontraditional storytellers into one somewhat-confined location, making it a dream to screen, meet and brief teams face to face.

Basic Needs and Brand Experiences 
Apart from screenings, there are a host of branded experiential spaces to visit at Sundance. Established technology brands such as Dell and Intel have now set up shop on Main Street during the festival. These spaces feel like a typical consumer-tech showroom with headsets, cameras and desktop machines to sample with little connection to the festival itself. The independent spirit of  Sundance—with its well-established brand—has proven tricky for brands to navigate. How do you seamlessly insert your brand into an existing and beloved cultural event? 

If you’re setting up shop on Main Street, I believe there are two ways in: enriching the attendees’ festival experience or supplying basic necessities. Tickets to films and panels sell out long before the festival, and every private event has a short list due to the strictness of Park City fire marshals. As it is, I’d encourage brands with established spaces to create programming that is open to the public, granting attendees some of that insider access; they traveled to Sundance for a reason, and you can be a part of the stories they take back home. On the flip side, trudging back and forth to screenings in snowy 7,000-foot elevations dehydrates, drains batteries and empties stomachs. Water, proper meals and power are precious commodities—providing those basic needs (and maybe oxygen tanks) proves that you understand the festival and have lived it.

Attending Sundance today excites as much me now as it did my post-grad self. The energy of many creative minds in a small mountain town energizes me to push our stories and production approaches into new territories. I come home with the desire and continued courage to produce projects that the world has never seen before.

Tasha Cronin is co-director, interactive, at Droga5

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