Our critic reveals why she thinks the film festival's run out of gas

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 03, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Has the point been tipped? Has the shark been jumped? I wouldn’t presume to pronounce. But I know this: Most every critic I spoke to who wasn’t a hipster blogger at her first fest voiced the opinion that this time, the Sundance Film Festival was out of gas. Off its feng shui. (My EW colleague, Owen Gleiberman, begs to differ.)

Haven’t the naysayers been naysaying this every year? Perhaps. But not until this January could you find so many critics wondering if this showcase still matters for good, original filmmaking, even as the 10-day event has exploded in size, in celebrity quotient, and in branding opportunities. (Yes, EW is an enthusiastic sponsor.)

A grand marketplace does not make for grand art. Steve Carell’s Little Miss Sunshine was a hit, but hardly a risky indie. And with the expanded programming slate, too many of the many are unexceptionally imitative — Sundance is the destination for anemic entries about youth and alienation. Such material is, inevitably, the stuff of young filmmakers by the very nature of youth and alienation. But where do these newcomers get their artistic cues? From Sundance.

Some years are richer than others; maybe this year was just fallow. (Interest in nonfiction films booms when fiction is weak.) Or maybe Sundance is in the process of becoming something else, and we cinephiles need to rethink expectations. There are more gawkable celebrities, and more swag. But there’s less joy, and less independence, too.

As the Sundance Kid said to Butch Cassidy about Bolivia, ”What could they have here that you could possibly want to buy?”