Ready For The Big Dance?
Sage Advice from Sundance Veterans
by David Scharfenberg

Get with the Programmer
Skizz Cyzyk knows something about getting attention at Sundance. In 1998, Cyzyk, program manager for the Maryland Film Festival and director of an off-beat Baltimore-based event called MicroCineFest, sent out press releases announcing "Son of Sam Dance," a guerilla festival at Sundance that was to involve projecting films onto local buildings from a traveling van. The secretive endeavor was a hit with the media. "Son of Sam Dance" gobbled up ink in the film press that year and every year thereafter.

One problem--it never actually happened. Not in 1998, and not since. The festival was a media stunt.

Cyzyk advises filmmakers in search of recognition at Sundance to take a similar creative approach. "Every year, there are people out there who have very unique ways of promoting their films, and that always works," says Cyzyk, recalling one auteur who drew attention to his film with flyers that looked like parking tickets. "I guess the more people do this stuff, the less effective it becomes. But well-done pranks work."

Cyzyk divides his time in Park City between serving as a projectionist at Slamdance and searching for films to show at the Maryland Film Festival. His preferred approach is to find a movie that interests him and then approach the filmmaker and make a pitch. Don't approach him before he's seen the film, cautions Cyzyk. "It's always uncomfortable if I haven't seen the film first. I hate to establish a relationship, see the film and then not know what to say to the filmmaker."

Cyzyk has been disappointed at how conventional many of the films shown at Sundance have been in recent years. "I know filmmakers are making cool, daring, original works," he says. "I have a feeling that the festival programmers are not programming this type of film, though I think that's what indie film is all about."

His final advice: don't make mainstream films without known stars. "I don't see the point in making films that Hollywood is already making without the advantage of Hollywood stars, but people continually do it," he says. If you do make a Hollywood-style narrative, Cyzyk says, "send your movie to the studio heads, not to festival programmers."