January 23, 2006 4:59 PM PST

Sundance online poses quandary for filmmakers

PARK CITY, Utah--You don't have to fly thousands of miles, fight for tickets and accommodations, or be forced to endure freezing temperatures just to be a part of the legendary Sundance Film Festival.

Some of the very same short films that led people here to wait in long lines--and sometimes be turned away due to lack of seating--can be viewed online in the warm comfort of the living room.

The annual independent film festival put on by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute continues to expand its Web offerings. This year, 50 of the 73 filmmakers chosen to compete with short films have agreed let their creations stream on the festival's site.

Those viewing strictly online, however, would miss the Park City camaraderie, feature-length films and live star sightings. Still, the shorts premiere online at the same time as they show in festival theaters, they are free to watch, don't require any registration and are available for six months.

While the majority of filmmakers this year are willing to put their projects up on the Web and are appreciative of the exposure to a worldwide crowd, some worry about copyright issues or that they will be limited from entering their work into further competitions.

For example, the family of the deceased Scott Gerow, who made a short film chronicling his own battle with brain cancer, decided not to put his film online in case they want to submit it to the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. (Those in the business here said the Academy doesn't accept movies that have been published online.)

On the other hand, Tom Putnam, who last year put his film, "Broadcast 23," on Sundance Online, said he went against the advice of most people who suggested waiting until the film had gone through the festival run. Based in part on the enthusiasm of festival staff, he decided it was worth possibly excluding other festivals to be a part of Sundance. "It allows us to open up the film to a much wider audience than the folks who are lucky enough to be able to travel to Park City and buy a ticket to see it," Putnam said.

"Online film festivals and distribution are all about opening up your film to a wider audience," he said, adding that it's great to hear reactions from a live audience, but the online feedback is more prolific. "For short filmmakers, it's the best way to reach the widest possible audience."

The following are just three of the shorts you can watch online:

• "The Tribe" is a smart, funny 18-minute short directed by Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain. The film is described by Sundance as "an unorthodox, unauthorized history of the Jewish people." It points out the irony that the Barbie doll, the Aryan-looking symbol of the ideal American woman, was created by a Jewish woman.

• "The Pity Card" is a comedic 12-minute film directed by Bob Odenkirk (of "Ben Stiller Show" fame) about a guy who recalls his mistake of taking a first date to the Holocaust Museum.

• "Preacher with an Unknown God," is a 16-minute film, rich in poetic images of urban America, about an preacher in New York who opposes materialism. The charismatic Rev. Billy Talen and his Church of Stop Shopping parishioners travel around the country holding impromptu church services at malls and shopping centers.

 

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