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Filming the Filmmakers: Turning the Cameras on the Sundance Lab

By Tamara Krinsky

As part of the year-long celebration of the Sundance Institute’s 20th anniversary, Sundance20 premiered in January on the Sundance Channel. This rare, behind-the-scenes look at the summer Filmmakers Lab, which was directed by Doug Pray (Scratch, Hype), follows three young filmmakers who participated in the June 2001 Lab and features interviews with lab staff and creative advisors. This was the first time that the Lab process was opened up to cameras. “The Filmmakers Lab is an experience that is quite private,” Pray maintains. “It really puts filmmakers [known as “Fellows”] on the spot intentionally.”

While at first some of the Fellows were self-conscious having Pray around, eventually they got used to his presence. “I kept telling them not to mind that I was around because it wasn’t about them – it was about the experience – and they were helping to tell the story about something bigger going on.”

The decision to open up the 2001 Lab was predicated on the idea that the piece would not be a promotional one. Rather, Sundance founder Robert Redford wanted the film to be a portrait of the Lab. Originally the plan was to document every Lab program (Theatre, Composers, Screenwriting, etc.), but it quickly became apparent that an hour was not sufficient to do so; hence the decision to focus solely on the Filmmaker’s Lab.

Several things surprised Pray during shooting. “Most documentary filmmakers, we’re just cynics about everything. I was expecting not to be nearly as impressed as I was. Everybody realizes that everything is open—you can be yourself here, and you can be honest. There’s no media here, we’re not talking about money, we’re not talking about producing, we’re not talking about anything that normally bothers the hell out of filmmakers and distracts them from the act of making a film.”

Sundance20 is an AAC FACT (Alliance Atlantis’ factual documentary label) production, in association with Sundance Channel and Channel 4.