The Sundance Kids

10 big names who got their lucky break at Redford's film festival, which opens today

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1| The original: Steven Soderbergh

Photo credit: ITV/ REX

Soderbergh, more than any other early indie filmmaker, put Sundance on the map with his 1989 psycho-drama Sex, Lies and Videotape. The film, emerging amid white hot buzz from Sundance, became media-wide success de scandale, with global audiences expecting art-house porn but finding only x-rated chat and James Spader. Soderbergh would later fall out with Redford, claiming that the icon stole from him the chance to direct the Oscar-winning Quiz Show.

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2| The DIY Expert: Richard Linklater

Photocredit: Moviestore/ REX

Made for just $23,000, and looking like something close to controlled chaos, Richard Linklater's 1989 Austin-set ensemble Slacker, was originally rejected by festival selectors in 1990. A year later, and with Slacker already a proven success story at local Austin theatres, the film returned to Sundance, and was this time greeted with open arms and a crucial validation of Linklater as one to watch in a new generation of DIY auteurs.  

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3| The Game Changer: Quentin Tarantino

 

Photo credit: Kipps Matthews/ REX

It's early 1991, and at the Director's Lab in the Sundance Institute, a 28-year-old wannabe filmmaker called Quentin Tarantino is coached through his debut screenplay Reservoir Dogs, by 'Lab tutor Terry Gilliam. Tarantino runs scenes. Actor buddy Steve Buscemi performs them. Gilliam approves. Inevitably, an indie film legend, and an entire mode of filmmaking ("Tarantino-esque") is born.


4| The Provocateur: Darren Aronofsky

Director Darren Aronofsky describes the night in December 1997 when he discovered that his debut feature, the maths themed psycho-thriller Pi, had been accepted into the following year's Sundance Film Festival as, "Potentially, the greatest night of my life." The film went on to win the festival's Directing Award, and Aronofsky became a controversialist who directed difficult complex films such as Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and Black Swan.


5| The Horror: The Blair With Project

Arriving at the 1999 festival amidst a flurry of devious rumours about the alleged authenticity of their supposedly 'found' footage, The Blair Witch Project proved that the Sundance hype could create not just Indie auteurs but an actual box office phenomenon (the film went on to gross $250 million worldwide). A subsequent craze of found footage movies began (see JJ Abrams Cloverfield)


6| The Heart Throb: Ryan Gosling


The face that launched a thousand female fantasies in The Notebook and Crazy, Stupid, Love, Ryan Gosling was actually born, creatively, at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. There, as the 21-year-old star of Henry Bean's brilliantly disturbing The Believer, the former Mickey Mouse Club child star played a New York Jew who becomes a Neo-Nazi, with predictably brutal results. The film won the Grand Jury Prize. Gosling's credibility was forever assured. 


7| The Blockbuster Champion: Christopher Nolan


London-born Nolan had failed to make much of a splash with his 1998 London-set debut, the tricky neo-noir Following, but when he turned up to Sundance in January 2001 with Memento (an amnesiac thriller starring Guy Pearce) the film's critical raves and subsequent Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (awarded by the festival) ensured that nothing less than super-stardom and a Batman trilogy would follow.


8 | The Documentarian: Morgan Spurlock


In 2004, nobody had heard of a 34-year-old occasional playwright and web-TV-producer from West Virginia called Morgan Spurlock. Then he hit the festival with his Super Size Me shock-doc (survive on McDonalds for 30 days, or die trying!). He won the directing award, and suddenly was touted as a global contender. His subsequent efforts (including a gig as a director-for-hire on the new One Direction concert movie) failed to match the promise but the buzz around him alone, if only for that one year, cemented the notion that Sundance docs were hot property.


9| The Hunk: Channing Tatum


One film dominated the 2006 festival. It won the Directing Award, it won the Special Jury prize, and it was nominated for the Grand Jury prize. It was Dito Montiel's startling New York-set coming of age tale, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. And yet, the most startling thing about the film was a firebrand performance from a 26-year-old former dancer and Abercrombie & Fitch model called Channing Tatum. Channeling early era Brando at every turn, Tatum was both christened and absolved by Sundance. All past sins, and all past modeling campaigns were instantly forgotten.   


10| The Pin-Up: Jennifer Lawrence


Winter's Bone was the biggest story of the 2010 festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize and breathless critical plaudits alike. But this fantastically unsentimental adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's 2006 novel about rural Ozark infighting also introduced the world to a little known 19-year-old actress called Jennifer Lawrence. Within two years she had snagged a Best Actress Oscar for the Silver Linings Playbook. Mega-stardom was a given.

This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our new iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand. Get your copy today by downloading the Esquire UK app to your iPad and either buying an individual copy for 99p or taking out a three-month, six-month or year’s subscription (all of which include digital copies of the monthly magazine)

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