Sundance & Independent Spirit Awards offer alternative movie-going experience for viewers

While much of the Hollywood regalia in the first two months of the year is conveniently positioned on the shoulders of well-known awards shows such as the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, there are several independent film festivals that are having their shining moments as well.

The Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards are amongst the best-known and most publicized of such festivals. This year, Sundance Film Festival appears to have rebounded from a disappointing slump of mediocre films in 2008, and the Independent Spirit Awards will also showcase a promising lineup of renowned film selections.

Held in Park City Utah, the Sundance Film Festival was founded in 1978 by Sterling Van Wagenen, John Earle, and Robert Redford and has since become the largest independent film festival in the United States. The festival's main goal of featuring retrospective and insightful films alongside film maker discussions has propelled the event to become a major media and celebrity extravaganza. Films originally screened at Sundance in the past have included Reservoir Dogs, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Blair Witch Project. This year, Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire was the recipient of the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award, and A Special Jury Prize for Acting for its screenplay about a teenage girl from Harlem (Gabourey Sidibe) breaking free from her horrible home life and following her instincts to escape her tumultous past. 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt, also won much critical acclaim for its whimsical, offbeat not-another-usual-romantic-comedy premise of Levitt's character Tom trying unsuccessfully to woo the girl of his dreams, Summer (Deschanel). 

The Independent Spirit Awards were founded in 1984 and are held in Santa Barbara, California, usually the day before the Academy Awards. This year, they will take place on February 21st. Charlie Kaufmann's (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, a drama about an aging theatre director (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who builds a replica of New York City in an abandoned airport hanger, is amongst the films with the highest number of nominations. It has already been named the recipient of the Robert Altman award for best director, casting director, and ensemble cast and is up for prizes in the Best First Feature and Best Screenplay categories. Rachel Getting Married, starring Anne Hathaway as a woman who, fresh out of rehab, creates a series of kerfuffles at her sister's wedding, is also a strong contender in the Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead, and Best Supporting Female categories.

The thought-provoking cinema highlighted at both Sundance and the Independent Spirit Awards offers a refreshing break from the highly commercialized, often uninsightful films so usually frequented at the box office. While several features were not afraid to address hot-button issues such as incest, abuse, and war, the festivals are also a hybrid of documentaries and enjoyable, tastefully-written comedies. After over 20 years of thought-provoking and compelling cinema, these festivals are world-renowned for being landmarks of true cinematic excellence.

The original version of this review was published in The Broadcaster