When considering the various ways Kickstarter has changed people’s lives, one doesn’t necessarily think of the Sundance Film Festival first. And yet, not only are there nine Kickstarter-funded films in the 2019 Sundance roster (selected from a record-breaking 14,259 submissions), altogether there have been 123 films propelled from the crowdfunding platform to the prestigious festival (itself one of the most notable launchpads in cinema) since 2011. Moreover, the film division of the community financing company set up shop on-site, in a lodge overlooking Park City, Utah in all its splendor. Seven public-facing events made the Kickstarter Lodge home for emerging talent, as well as the queer community, people of color, and Asia Pacific filmmakers. The online network had a real home to celebrate its success stories.
“We are incredibly excited to have nine Kickstarter-funded projects premiering at Sundance this year,” Director of Documentary Film at Kickstarter, Liz Cook Mowe, tells us. “From Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco to Knock Down the House, to a documentary following the campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other women running for US Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, this year’s films push forward new narratives and showcase emerging talent.”
Cook Mowe’s role is an important one as documentary is the most popular subcategory of Kickstarter’s film community. Knock Down the House not only made its way to the festival, but had its world premiere as part of the US Documentary Competition. The documentary Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins also made its world premiere during the festival. Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty screened in the NEXT category. The empowered Crude Oil, horror film The Rat and LGBTQ+ portrayal Lavender all made their world premieres in the US Narrative Short division. Series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared partook in the Indie Episodic section. And Ms Purple and The Last Black Man in San Francisco showcased during the prestigious US Dramatic Competition. Some raised their funds years ago, while others saw their development involve partnerships with production houses like A24 and Plan B.
Kickstarter enables filmmakers to retain complete creative control
“Sundance’s 2019 mantra is ‘Risk Independence’ which is exactly what Kickstarter champions every day,” Cook Mowe continues. “Kickstarter enables filmmakers to retain complete creative control, find funding on their own timeline and speak to their audiences directly. Filmmakers on Kickstarter are not just risking independence, they’re embracing it.”
Cook Mowe’s role includes substantial outreach and harvesting talent to bring to the platform. This, coupled with Kickstarter’s position as a mission-driven Public Benefit Corporation, meant their parties, panels and premieres serviced various communities. From their Queer Warm Up for LGBTQ+ filmmakers to the Brown Girls Doc Mafia Sundance Mixer, and even their role as host for the 15th annual Asian Pacific Filmmakers Experience, the lodge teemed with extraordinary, diverse talent—once again.
“We’ve been coming to the festival since our partnership with Sundance started in 2011,” she concludes. “We are here to celebrate our Kickstarter filmmakers premiering films at the festival and to join our peers in enjoying and learning from some of the most creative, bold, and exciting films being made.” They even offered a zine from their publishing division, The Creative Independent. It’s all a nice touch from a platform that continues to demonstrate it’s about more than money.
Hero image of Michael Urie, Michael Hsu Rosen and Ken Barnett in Lavender by Matthew Puccini, courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Brandon Roots