Sundance shorts on iTunes

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The Sundance Film Festival is joining the iTunes revolution, selling 32 of this year's 71 narrative, documentary and animated shorts at the iTunes Store for $1.99 a pop.

Just how successful the trial partnership between Sundance Institute and Apple Inc. will be is a big question mark, partly because all of the downloadable titles (and 14 additional shorts) will be streamed free of charge on Sundance's Web site through April 18. They will be available for purchase on iTunes for three years beginning Jan. 22 alongside free podcasts featuring filmmaker panels and music performances from the fest.

"I have (always) felt that if people really care about independent film, they should pay particular attention to short filmmakers, who are the best indicators of what is coming down the creative pike," Sundance Institute president and founder Robert Redford said. Previous directors in the Sundance shorts program include Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze and Alexander Payne.

ITunes will take a 30% commission from each sale, with the filmmaker earning 67% of the remaining income and the Sundance Institute and festival divvying up the rest. Filmmakers retain all rights and can sell their shorts to other outlets or withdraw their titles from iTunes at any time.

"All the shorts are very progressive, stylistically and storywise," said John Cooper, the fest's director of programming. "They're ahead of the curve creatively — some have a mix of animation and narrative, while others might follow a weird secondary character you'd see in a feature-length film."

Shorts for sale include the German motorcycling docu "Motodrom" and "One Rat Short," the CGI-animated tale of a street rat that falls in love with a lab rat.

According to Cooper, the idea for the partnership arose after filmmakers at last year's fest expressed an interest in making their shorts more widely available. Talks between Sundance and Apple execs began soon after.

Filmmakers were informed they could participate in the program when they were told of their admission in early December. Some didn't participate, Cooper said, because of rights issues, concerns over getting into other fests and Academy Award-qualification rules, and the time iTunes needed to bring each film up to its technical specifications.

"It's a year-only experiment," Cooper said of the program, which could be continued. "There'll be a big learning curve for all of us."
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