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At The Film Stage, Kristin Coates has a long and impressively detailed take on the early days of the Sundance Institute and Festival, tracing the social, political and industry currents that lead to the formation of what is now one of the dominant institutions in the world of independent film. The Directors Lab is currently unfolding at Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah, and Coates’ article is not only a timely tale of Sundance but also a history of the transition from the “New Hollywood” of the mid-’70s to a self-identifying American independent film movement that gathered steam in the ’80s. In her telling, though, Coates is also aware of the limitations of all official histories, quoting Michel Foucault in her discussion of why Sundance’s origins lie before the 1985 birth celebrated at its 2009 “25th anniversary.”

As historian and theorist Michel Foucault would argue, the trouble with an origin point is that there was always something before. Indeed, 1985 did mark the beginning of something new, but that something grew out of many earlier happenings. As Foucault described, “A genealogy of values, morality, asceticism, and knowledge will never confuse itself with a quest for their “origins,” will never neglect as inaccessible all the episodes of history. On the contrary, it will cultivate the details and accidents that accompany every beginning; it will be scrupulously attentive to their petty malice; it will await their emergence, once unmasked, as the face of the other.”

The creation of Sundance was not a single moment in time, but rather it developed out of a number of different circumstances that were happening synchronously, and whose paths crossed and became intertwined. “Creation” in this case is a moment when multiple paths intersected through shared occurrences and motivations. History in this case is a series of trajectories, and when these multiple trajectories intersected and aligned, something new was formed.

The complete article is at the link.

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