Hollywood studio execs are setting up shop in the chilly streets of Park City, Utah, where a crop of aspiring stars are getting their first shot at fame.
With a track record of fostering breakout hits that include "Napoleon Dynamite," "Maria Full of Grace," "Memento" and "Reservoir Dogs," it's no surprise that competition is fierce for a spot on the Sundance screening schedule. Thousands of directors applied last fall for the event that begins today, but just a fraction earned a slot.
"The odds were better for me to win the lottery, because the lottery has no subjectivity to it … it's just random," said 23-year-old director Pablo Veliz. "I'll be honest; I had no hopes."
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to get into Sundance," said documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt. "I turned down a lot of smaller festivals that I could have applied to … not knowing that I was going to get in [to Sundance] … but just believing that I would."
Veliz and Hurt, unlike the majority of the 7,000 directors who applied to Sundance this year, will rank among the 120 directors whose films made the festival list. "It's just a huge, huge honor. I'm more grateful than anything," said Hurt, whose documentary on the hip-hop community made the cut.
"It's kind of like getting accepted to Harvard," said Veliz.
Veliz said he was shocked his Spanish-language drama, "La Tragedia de Macario," was accepted to Robert Redford's annual showcase. The film tells the plight of a Mexican migrant worker killed while crossing the border into Texas, and was first rejected by a festival in his home state of Texas.
"If we couldn't get into Texas, I thought we couldn't get into the world, but I was wrong," he said.
When Hurt decided he wanted to put together a documentary tackling stereotypes in rap music, his lifestyle was a far cry from that of the famed performers he would eventually interview.
The then-30-year-old left his employer in Boston to move in with his parents and save on rent while getting started on his film. He began searching for funding, but the responses came slowly.
"I got rejected by about 11 funders. It's like self-mutilation," said Hurt. "People only see the end project. They do not see the process … I just tip my hat off to anyone who makes film."
Once he secured funding, Hurt managed to make his way into the hip-hop community and interview Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, Common and others to discuss how men are represented in videos.
"There are moments in my film where I'm challenging people, I'm challenging their beliefs, their actions … and I think on a certain level people respected that," he said.
His documentary, "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture," was chosen by Sundance and will also air on PBS later this year.
So you want your film to play the festival circuit? It helps to first learn some patience.
With thousands of festivals around the world, directors find themselves taking on the role of salespeople, trying to find a home for their work. "It's daunting, especially when it's your first film," said New York documentary maker Peggy Sutton. "This part of the filmmaking process was all new to me," she said.