As befits its indie roots, the Sundance Film Festival has long played host to innovations that have spread elsewhere.
Blogging is one of them. Personal blogs, millions of them, are spreading on the Internet like kudzu, from LiveJournal.com to MySpace.com. Professional blogs such as Gawker Media's gossipy Defamer.com draws some 270,000 page views per day.
As blogs become more successful, they are challenging traditional media, and this year's Sundance marks a fascinating juncture as newly powerful blogs like http://www.Cinematical.com take on the likes of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
"Blogs are becoming a vital part of an independent film scene that relies on word-of-mouth and alternative media to truly thrive," says Eugene Hernandez, editor of the pioneering indie film site http://www.indieWIRE.com, which hosts some two dozen blogs and this year has asked 12 filmmakers from Sundance and the concurrent Slamdance to blog about their experiences.
BloggingSundance.com, a pioneering festival blog, was dreamed up by Weblogs Inc. Network founder Jason Calacanis, who persuaded the festival to let him blog in 2003. "I blogged live from inside movie theaters. I'd sit in the back row with my laptop," he recalls. "It's the closest thing to live coverage." Film fanatic Calacanis continued to blog Sundance through 2004 and '05, when he reviewed 19-20 movies by himself. "When I'm at Sundance I don't go to parties, I watch films," he says.
Last year, Weblogs morphed BloggingSundance into Cinematical.com, a smart group blog for movie fans that is already getting 50,000 hits a day. (AOL bought Weblogs and its 80 blogs in October for a reported $25 million.) During this year's Sundance, a Cinematical team of five led by Calacanis will be posting from Sundance. "Over the course of the next 12 days," writes Karina Longworth in an entry that also plugs new corporate partners AOL and Moviefone, "We will blog the living hell out of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival." Cinematical will still post its Sundance entries at its old URL, http://www.BloggingSundance.com.
Cinematical doesn't edit its writers, Calacanis says. "I want them to write what they're passionate about. People want more voices. There's a transparency in blogging. People aren't afraid to say something is a terrible movie. Mainstream journalists don't have the passion to cover Sundance as aggressively and passionately as the bloggers. What Sundance is to the film industry, blogging is to the traditional media."
When IndieWIRE first covered Sundance 10 years ago, Hernandez recalls, "'Webcasting' had just hit. Our group was among the first to cover the festival in this new way. It's become all about blogs."
Other passionate voices in this year's Sundance blogosphere include MovieCityNews' Hot Blog from David Poland, Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere, Scott Macaulay at http://www.FilmmakerMagazine.com and GreenCineDaily.
Sundance founder Robert Redford may lament all the buzz surrounding Sundance, but with all the blogs in attendance, that buzz will be louder than ever.