If you couldn’t make it to Sundance this year, Sundance was ready to come to you — only forget about anyone throwing an exclusive star-studded party in your home. Launched in 2001, the Sundance Online Film Festival extends the Sundance imprimatur to Web-specific work from film, video and animation to new forms of interactive art. The site, which comes down after February, featured 21 works culled from the Web and divided into three categories: Animation, Live Action and New Forms. (The Showcase category presented a handful of shorts screened in Park City.) Compared to Sundance on the mountaintop, Sundance on the desktop was by far the more intimate affair. Once you logged on, it was just you and the “movies,” nestled in the multiple frames of the computer screen like rarified little treasures. That, at least, was the experience if you had a high-speed Internet connection.
On 56k or less, Sundance online could feel like the actual festival without a pass: You did a lot of waiting and didn’t always see what you waited for. This wasn’t a big problem with Flash-animation films such as the three installments from Marina Zurkow’s melancholic, 10-episode Web series Braingirl, about the poignant adventures of a mutant adolescent. The DV- and CGI-based works were another story. In the time it took to download director Brian McClave’s 20-minute QuickTime film Fossil with a 56k modem, for instance, you could fly to Salt Lake City, rent a car and get inline at the Prospector Theater. A meditation on the relationship between the evolution of the human brain and the growth of human culture, Fossil proved ill-conceived for an online festival, even with a high-speed connection. Its digitally shot, stereoscopic images require 3-D glasses, not a common household item, although 200 pairs were available for order free of charge.
Some of the festival’s most engaging works weren’t films at all. Created by Wesley Thomas Meyer, More-Inc. is a harsh critique of corporate culture in the form of a Flash-animation piece designed to look like the home page of the world’s most soul-crunching company. After “logging in” as employee “Number 12995,” the user was confronted by a number of tasks (click this, click that) that simulate the repetition, anonymity and abuse of office culture. Whether the online festival can do for Web films and art what Sundance did for independent film remains to be seen. (First, someone’s going to have to figure out how to make money off the Internet.) One thing, however, is certain: You don’t have to wait for a distributor to check out most of these Web-specific works — they’re out there, just a click away.