Your Guide to 2014 Festival Panels and Conversations

The Beauty of Failure

John Nein, Senior Programmer

Part of the Sundance Film Festival’s vitality is the culture of conversation we cultivate around the films in the program, with filmmakers, documentary subjects, actors, and artists. It’s through those interactions that the films really come off the screen and audiences can engage with the people who make it. 

The program is broken up into different strands, and while some information appears in print, for the most up-to-date picture of what’s happening, check out the online guide

Power of Story 

Since it’s inauguration three years ago the, Power of Story series presented by Time Warner Foundation exists to deepen public engagement with storytelling, ideas, and the artistic process. While we’ve often talked about the impact of films, this year Power of Story: Weights and Measures (Saturday, Jan. 18th at 3pm) takes a step back and asks what the actual power of a story is; what are different ways we can talk about impact. It’s a group that brings a breadth of experience: Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps; Academy Award-winning filmmaker of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos (who’ll offer a glimpse of his new project The Heist); BritDoc CEO Jess Search; Paul Zak, who studies the neuroscience of storytelling; and moderator Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. 

And at the tail end of the festival with Power of Story: The Class of ’94 (Friday January 24th at 3pm) we look back what was not only a pretty amazing year of films and filmmakers, but one that sharply accented the diversity that was coming out of a budding independent film movement. So we’re reuniting some class members in Gregg Araki, Kevin Smith, Rose Troche, Boaz Yakin, and moderator John Cooper for extraordinary stories about an extraordinary year.  

Free Fail

As a counter-intuitive way of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Festival, John Cooper came up with a program called Free Fail, a full day of interactive activities in which artists and cultural luminaries explore failure as a catalyst for growth and a fundamental part of the creative process. 

The centerpiece panel Exploratory Detours stems from author, scholar and curator Sarah Lewis’ upcoming book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, which explores an enduring enigma of the human experience: that so many iconic endeavors—from Nobel Prize-winning discoveries to entrepreneurial inventions and works in the arts—are not achievements, but conversions and corrections after failed attempts. With a group that includes Sundance founder Robert Redford, neuroscientist and musician Dr. Charles Limb, writer/director Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under, Afternoon Delight), and president of the Open Society Foundations Christopher Stone, she looks at the irreplaceable gifts that come from failure in creative endeavors. 

Several other panels that day take up themes around the willingness to take risks and wrong turns, including The Beauty of Failure at New Frontier. That afternoon you’ll also find the Fail Safe Workshops, a series of one-hour master classes (the Rockettes teaching you how to high kick or the co-founder of Instagram teaching you how to take the worst picture ever) that require you to check your ego at the door and remember that everyone fails, everyday.

Cinema Café 

There’s no better way to start the day than with free coffee, free pastries and free stimulating conversation. Every morning at 10am in the Filmmaker Lodge, Cinema Café presented by Chase Sapphire, provides casual conversations around the work in the program.  Amongst the group passing through this year: Richard Ayoade, Joe Berlinger, Mark Duplass, Gareth Evans, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rory Kennedy, William H. Macy, Leonard Maltin, Stanley Nelson, John Slattery, Anne Thompson and Adam Wingard. 

Some highlights: Saturday morning we welcome a group of actors whose breakout performances in this year’s program will undoubtedly turn heads, The Trip to Italy involves frequent collaborators Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom, in conversation Tuesday morning (with an early start time 9:45am), and acclaimed director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) appear in conversation together Wednesday morning

At the Lodge 

The Filmmaker Lodge panels every afternoon explore the issues and ideas emerging from films. For example, Sunday afternoon we look at the passionate pursuit of international justice with Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and subject of Watchers of the Sky; and Human Rights Watch’s Anna Neistat and Ole Solvang, subjects of E-Team. Other panels explore how humans construct truth (and how those truths are mediated), the formal inventiveness of doc-fiction hybrids, the tension between tradition and modernity and the crazy number of films about familial relationships. 

Our annual look at science-in-film with a group of scientists and filmmakers this year explores Cosmic Crossroads (Tuesday January 21st), the fascination we have with space. And on Wednesday we throw out the rules with This is Not a Panel, a show-and-tell in which we asked Michael Tully (Ping Pong Summer), Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), and David Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter) to bring three objects that fuel their creativity. 

And of course, we close out the Festival with its best-kept secret panel, Film Church with John Cooper and Trevor Groth, with a recap of the 10 days and a coach full of surprise guests. 

New Frontier

And we make a last stop at New Frontier for conversations about innovations in film, technology and art like artist/filmmaker Chris Milk (Sound and Vision, Arcade Fire) discussing interactive storytelling in The StoryWorld: Creating Interactive Experiences That Work, a look at measuring impact, and Aaron Koblin (Google) in conversation with Doug Aitken about The Source.

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