Sundance a click away

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Digital coverage of the Sundance Film Festival has reached new heights this year, with a new YouTube Sundance Channel Video Blog Festival, shorts for sale on iTunes, official blogs from the network and fest sponsors, an avatar community on Second Life, offerings from MySpace and countless independent Web sites covering the fest.

Through its first collaboration with the Sundance Channel, YouTube will post daily videos from "Four Eyed Monsters" directors Arin Crumley and Susan Buice, who developed their autobiographical feature after meeting online. The pair will interview filmmakers and travel to screenings, panels and parties around Park City.

"They provide a unique perspective of Sundance as filmmakers and chronicle from the festivalgoer perspective as well," said Christopher Barry, vp digital media and business strategy at the Sundance Channel.

Another unique new venture taken by Sundance Channel is creating an "island" on Second Life, a virtual environment where computer users engage with each other as "Sims"-style avatars. After downloading the free Second Life software and registering, visitors can attend screenings and virtual parties.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, Lynn Hershman-Leeson will host an invitation-only screening of her ecological docu feature "Strange Culture," co-hosted by an online avatar of Tilda Swinton, on her own Neware island. A limited number of Second Life members can attend a Q&A about the film, hosted by notable community avatars, Jan. 22. The film premieres in actual reality Friday at Sundance.

Hershman-Leeson said the idea came shortly after Sundance programmer Shari Frilot let her know "Culture" was accepted at the fest. "She's involved in New Frontiers, which specializes in new technology and experimental cinema," Hershman-Leeson said. "Sundance is one of the only festivals that really acknowledges the shifts in nontraditional filmmaking."

John Cooper, who has led Sundance in new directions as director of programming, looked to filmmakers to see what was next for the festival. "They wanted to sell their films and brand them as Sundance," he said. "There's so much content out there that it creates such a need for a filter."

This led to a deal with the fest and channel to sell 32 short films at Apple's iTunes Store for $1.99 each. The films also will stream for free on Sundance's Web site along with 14 others from this year's selection.

Along with bringing Sundance films to people's homes, the Web offers a multitude of ways for anyone to get an insider's view. Twenty-two Live at Sundance mini-festival streaming videos (webcast twice a day) and 27 Meet the Artists filmmaker interviews will provide an official view of what isn't onscreen and, according to Cooper, "step deeper into who we are as a festival." Ten panels also will be podcast on the official Web site and at the iTunes Store, all for free.

Sponsor HP's blog will take a more backstage look at the festival. The blog has categories including Behind the Scenes, which will feature planning, setup and the technology at Sundance, as well as Celebrities, Party Crashers and HP Onsite Encounters, which will have more traditional blogging fare. HP execs already have begun posting on the site in anticipation of the festival, which kicks off Thursday.

Another fest sponsor, AOL Moviefone, will post Unscripted, a series of streamed exclusive interviews between filmmakers and cast members who worked on the same Sundance feature.

Film.com will be one of the many independent sites covering the festival. The site features festival news, information on films appearing at Sundance and correspondent Laremy Legel reporting from Park City. Film.com also has an extensive Sundance FAQ posted on the site.

Producer and film editor Joel Heller maintains a blog focusing on documentary films and filmmakers at DocsThatInspire.com. As part of his Sundance coverage, he has been posting podcasts of interviews with documentary filmmakers on his site up until the start of the festival.

Perennial Sundance blogger Cyndi Greening will cover the festival on her personal site, CyndiGreening.com, from an independent filmmaking perspective. She also will be doing podcasts, videocasts and live webcasts from Park City.

Einsiders.com will send three bloggers to the festival. Jonathan Hickman, the site's editor, hopes to review 20 films at Sundance and also plans to stream video interviews from the festival on the site.

Niche blogs also are getting in on the act this year. Horror movie site Bloody-Disgusting.com will have an entire crew at the festival, and HipHopBattle.com will cover Sundance from an urban perspective. Other blogs sending reporters to Park City include movie news site AintItCool.com, Zoom-In.com (blogging and podcasting the fest through a professional lens), IndieWire.com (highlighting independent offerings at Sundance) and FilmThreat.com, whose Sundance blog will be maintained by editor in chief Mark Bell.

For the computer illiterate, Sundance Channel will provide offline content in the form of "Festival Dailies," a daily half-hour fest report at 9 p.m. EST Thursday through fest's end Jan. 28. The cable channel also will feature "Ten Days of Sundance Favorites," showcasing such features from previous festivals as "Hoop Dreams" and "The Motorcycle Diaries."
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