POV (Perspective)
What It's Like To Be A Filmmaker At The First Virtual Sundance
  • Friday, Feb. 19, 2021
Dash Shaw (photo by Johnny Dell Angelo)

I’m so honored to be a part of the Sundance Film Festival 2021, participating in Tabitha Jackson’s first festival and the very first virtual Sundance festival. Jane (animation director Samborski) and I were previously in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with an animated short we did called Seraph.

Sundance is particularly meaningful to me because I was part of the Labs program over a decade ago, in 2010. I was primarily a cartoonist before, making books and graphic novels. I never went to film school, so all of my practical film knowledge came from the Sundance Labs. I had never worked with actors before, and I didn’t know anything about editing. Making comics is a very solitary activity, and filmmaking--even the animated films I make--are quite collaborative. I picked up those imperative social skills from the Sundance Labs, learning how to explain to people what you’re trying to do.

Cryptozoo is only my second movie, and from my perspective, it’s stayed the same in terms of submitting the film and it being accepted. As far as the festival being virtual, I think of watching the movies at home as being akin to a reading experience; an intimate one-on-one engagement with the story... I always appreciated that about books. With Cryptozoo, I like that it’s on the individual viewer to decide whether something is funny or scary. If I wanted a strict, locatable emotional response, like a particular laugh at a particular moment, then the theater is preferable. An infectious laugh can fill a theater and it’s an incredible experience-- I felt that on my first feature, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. It played to giant audiences at TIFF, Berlinale, and others, and hearing a laugh explode across the room was a special high. Cryptozoo is more complicated, and I think the more book-like experience works beautifully for it.

Also, a virtual festival allows so many other people to access it. I live in Richmond, Virginia, and I know lots of cool people who will stream Sundance from home, virtually attending a festival they never would have flown to attend--People who would never have flown to Utah and gotten a hotel and all that. This widens the audience for these movies in a meaningful way. After Sundance is held online this year, and once they’ve figured out the structure, I believe they’re going to keep a virtual presence... Things were already moving in this direction.

Even without a live audience, the audience reaction finds its way to me, whether it be someone forwarding me a funny tweet or gif, or writing me an email. Sundance arranged a series of satellite drive-in screenings, so I drove down to Atlanta to see a drive-in screening of Cryptozoo. I’m pretty psyched to sit in a car and see it on the big screen. Not many Sundance filmmakers have ever gone to a drive-in of their own movie--it’s totally rad.

As an independent filmmaker, you work on something for many years and today, at the premiere, people are going to see it for the first time. That kind of anxiety, mixed with excitement, remains and has not been diminished at all by the festival being held virtually.

Dash Shaw is director of Cryptozoo, an independent animated feature which debuted at Sundance 2021.

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