7 takeaways from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Creative energy types at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox
Creative energy types at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox

After five days on the ground at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, we’ve picked up on a few themes—from creative trends to current events. Here are seven takeaways from this year’s festival, and what they say about independent filmmaking today.

1. Filmmakers are telling more personal stories…

Actress Elsie Fisher and Director Bo Burnham at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox
Actress Elsie Fisher and Director Bo Burnham at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox

Many of this year’s films have been deeply personal: a childhood memoir, a lone man’s crisis of faith, an homage to a female French author. Creators are choosing to tell a specific, human stories, rather than trying to appeal to mainstream audiences. It’s fitting that Sundance Institute has chosen “the story lives in you” as the theme for 2018.

2. …but large audiences are still resonating

Even with the shift toward very personal stories, creators say wide audiences are still resonating with their work. When filmmakers share their own experiences as authentically as possible, audiences connect with the shared humanity in the story—even if they have no surface-level similarities with the setting and characters. It’s a theme that’s pushing creators to make new films that break conventional rules.

3. Films are leaning into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements

Actress Debra Messing at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox
Actress Debra Messing at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox

With women around the world speaking out against sexual assault, the Sundance Film Festival has become a hub for #MeToo and #TimesUp storytelling. Whether it’s a story explicitly depicting assault, or a film exploring power dynamics between men and women, creators are taking bold steps to bring such stories to light. The trend also appears to have come about naturally, given that production for almost all of these films began before the movement became mainstream.

4. Female directors are on the rise

Director and producer Jessica Sanders at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox
Director and producer Jessica Sanders at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox

This year, 38% of all Sundance Film Festival directors are women—an all-time high. This figure has been trending up over the last couple of years, after having hovered around 25% for most of the early 2000s. Women are growing their share of voice in independent cinema, though more work remains to be done—on both sides of the camera.

5. Independent television is growing

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival introduced the new “Indie Episodic” section, allowing independent creators to submit projects that play out more like TV shows than traditional film. It’s a testament to how much TV’s prestige has grown that the new section was added. The category will likely grow larger as filmmakers find new ways to tell stories in a series-style format.

6. Creators are flexing their unique types of creative energy

Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox
Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. at the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox

With filmmakers—including many women and people of color—telling intensely personal stories, the passion of the creators is more apparent than ever. At the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox, we’ve seen dozens of creators celebrate their unique flavor of creative energy. Between poets, comedians, and activists, moviegoers are seeing all different types of talent at this year’s festival.

7. Collaboration is driving storytelling

While many films at the festival began as the personal story of an individual creator, strong tandems often drive the films to completion. From a young director partnering with a 13-year-old rising star, to a talented acting duo sparring on screen, many of this year’s films show how two rich creative talents can team up to make something even greater.

To see these themes in action—from photos of the creators to videos of Dropbox on the ground—visit our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

More Sundance:
Tell your story, not theirs: The case against conventional wisdom in film