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Sundance blog 5: The life of a Sundance programmer

  • Katie Metcalfe

Katie Metcalfe, one of Sundance's Short Film Programmers

January 2015

Edward Lawrenson and Pia Borg are at the Sundance Film Festival this week to present their short film Abandoned Goods. Ed is also sharing his Sundance diary, and in this fifth instalment he talks to one of Sundance's Short Film Programmers about the uber-competitive selection process and connections that can be made at the festival.

Ed caught up with Katie Metcalfe, a UK-born, New York-based short film expert who now works as one of the Short Film Programmers at Sundance.

Katie first attended Sundance after she moved to New York with shorts film label Future Shorts, and she was at the festival to acquire shorts. She soon caught the Sundance bug.

She says, "I just fell in love with the festival, and I got talking with the head of shorts programming team on a bus, and said I'd be really interested to get involved with programming".

"In distribution [at Future Shorts], the shorts we were looking for were for a mainly mainstream audience. But the work I saw here [at Sundance] was such a great calibre, I wanted to programme work just on its artistic merit, and be able to take more risks".

"I always have an eye on the UK shorts and European shorts too, but we all programme international shorts. This year we received 8,061 submissions. The way our programming process works, is that we split those up between programmers. So this year I watched about 1,000 short films in a period of four months".

"Then we put forward our reccomendations from that pool, which is usually 200-300 films that we all like and are interested in. Then we have a series of phone calls to get that pool down. Then we have a meeting in LA that lasts 4 days where we work the pgorammes out" [there are 60 shorts at Sundance 2015.]

"We see lots of themes coming through and sometimes they are very surprising, one year we had three separate submissions about someone falling in love with a lamppost and then being rejected ... which is an unusual one" (laughs).

"But in the types of films we are receiving, I’m definitely noticing there’s more funding coming from media outlets and online platforms, such as HotDocs, ESPN, Dazed Digital".

"Sundance are quite ahead of the curve in that we accept films that have already been premiered online. That’s something that I felt very strongly about when I joined the team. It was quite prohibitive to filmmakers to limit the submissions process."

"What I really love is seeing filmmakers come to the festival with a film, and make connections, and come back with another film several years later. Or instances which change someone’s life really. One example is David O’Reilly came with his short (The External World) in 2011 and we put him in the Day 1 programme with The Terrys by Tim and Eric, they invited him to LA to hang out, and they came up with some ideas, and he ended up moving to LA. So his career took a different path".

"It’s important because there are so many great connections to be made at the festival and British Council is really an important part of that with their work in supporting filmmakers to actually come and be present and attend the festival."

You can also read part onepart two, part threepart four and part six of Ed's Sundance diary.

Follow @British_Film on Twitter to keep up with each new instalment.

Ed and Pia are attending Sundance thanks in part to a Short Film Travel Grant from British Council and BFI. More information about the grants can be found here.

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