“Independent Cinema @ Sundance” (Drs. Eric Pierson & Roger Pace, University of San Diego, Intersession 2012)

Drs. Eric Pierson and Roger Pace
University of San Diego
Department of Communication Studies
Intersession 2012

 Course Description

This course is an intense examination of independent film during the Sundance Film Festival. The course will introduce students to the theory and practices of the independent film industry. Students will engage the films and filmmakers firsthand through a series of screenings, panels, course lectures, and class assignments.

Student Learning Outcomes

Independent Cinema

  • Students will be able to recognize and define the distinguishing characteristics of American Independent Film.
  • Students will be able to identify alternate film language (i.e. narration, lighting, camera angles, and acting) which characterize American Independent film.
  • Students will be able to describe the history of American Independent cinema including important films and filmmakers in the genre.
  • Students will be able to define explicate alternate voices in independent film
  • Student will articulate the role of independent film in political and social change.


  • Students will understand the history and importance of the Sundance Film Festival for independent cinema.
  • Students engage and converse first hand with film makers, critics, and fans of independent film
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast multiple approaches to independent cinema.
  • Students will be able to define and articulate the economics of film and the important of Sundance as a marketplace for independent cinema.

Course Assignments


The texts for the course consist of the text Indie: An American Film Culture by Micheal Z. Newman) and online readings excerpted from leading books and journals on independent cinema.  The online readings can be accessed using the names Pierson or Pace. The password for the readings is “sundance2012”.  Although our time at Park City will be very busy, the course readings are an important part of the educational experience.  Please read the assigned readings before coming to class as the lectures and discussions will be an extension of the assigned material.


Attendance at all scheduled class activities is required.


Students will be required to screen a minimum of twenty films and visit the New Frontier installation.  Students should select the twenty films from the festival catalog.  We encourage students to screen films as a group as much as possible.  Students should see at least one film form each of the following festival categories:

  • World Cinema Documentary Competition
  • World Cinema Dramatic Competition
  • U.S. Documentary Competition
  • U.S. Dramatic Competition
  • Spotlight
  • Premieres
  • Documentary Premieres
  • Shorts
  • Next
  • Park City at Midnight
  • New Frontier

 Pre-Sundance Screenings/Homework

Students should turn in their Pre-Sundance critiques upon their arrival in Park City. In addition to the critiques students will keep a course journal of homework assignments.  Journal entries will be assigned daily and include chapter questions, questions related to in-class screenings, application of course content, and a variety of other observations. Journal entries consist of two well-developed paragraph.  Each paragraph should contain:

  • A thesis statement
  • A detailed explication
  • An application of course content from assigned readings, and
  •  An illustration or example.

Please also feel free to use the journals to record your insights and observations connected to the Sundance experience. The course journal can be kept in a spiral bound notebook or typed. All journals are due by Monday, February 6th at 5:00 PM.  The journals should be left in Drs. Pace or Pierson’s mailbox. The journal, Pre-Sundance critiques, along with attendance and class participation are worth 40% of the course grade.

Film Critique

Students should select five of the ten films they screen and complete the following analysis:

  • Film Title & Director
  • Date and Time Film was screened
  • Short description of film plot.
  • Personal Reaction to the film.  What did you like or dislike about the film? Why?
  • Application of course concept.  Select one concept we have discussed in the class and apply it to the film.
  • Market Assessment.  Who would pay to see this film?  Why?

Additionally, students will submit an analysis of their New Frontiers experience with the following guidelines:

  • Experience Title & Creator
  • Date and Time of the experience
  • Short description of the experience
  • Personal Reaction to the experience. What did you like or dislike about the experience. Why? How did the experience expand the definition of film or the filmic experience?
  • Do you think the creator achieved their goal?

The analyses should be at least two pages in length and may be hand written or typed.  The analyses should be concise but provide enough detail to reflect an effective critical perspective.  All critiques and the New Frontier Analysis are due by Monday, February 6th at 5:00 PM.  The critiques should be left in Drs. Pace or Pierson’s mailbox. The film critiques and New Frontier analysis are worth 40% of the course grade.

Final Exam

The final exam will be a comprehensive, essay exam which includes all lectures and readings.  The final exam will be worth 20% of the final grade.

Tentative Schedule

 This schedule is subject to change as we discover all of the opportunities and challenges available to us at Sundance.   As a result, this schedule should be seen as more organic than inert and will grow with our experiences.

Jan. 15th  (Sun)
5-6 PM Class meeting Hotel Classroom
6:30 – 8 PM. Dinner and Park City Orientation.  Meet in hotel lobby.

16th  (Mon.)
9-11 AM  & 7-10 PM.  Hotel Classroom.  Topics include the nature of independent film and an introduction to indie filmmakers.  Readings: “Introduction” and “Chapter Two” from Newman and “John Sayles-Independent Filmmaker”

17th  (Tues.)
9-11 AM & 7-10 PM.   Hotel Classroom.  Topics include documentary films and film noir.  Readings: “Types of Documentary Film,” and “The Resurrection of Noir.”

18th  (Wed.)
9-11 AM & 7 to10 PM.  Hotel Classroom. Topics include characterizations and diversity in independent film.  Readings: “Chapters Three and Five” from Newman and “Cinema of Diversity.”

19th (Thurs.)
9-11 AM. Hotel Classroom.  Topics include tips for viewing independent films and Sundance backlash.  Readings: “Chapter One” from Newman and “The Sundance Kid.”
4:00 PM Party with Utah Alumni Association
Evening Activity Film Crashing 101

20th   (Fri.)
Film Screenings
Class Meeting 12-2 PM Hotel Classroom

21st    (Sat.)
Film Screenings
Class Meeting 12-2 PM Hotel Classroom

22nd   (Sun.)
Film Screenings
Class Meeting 12-2 PM Hotel Classroom

23rd   (Mon.)
Film Screenings
Class Meeting 12-2 PM Hotel Classroom

24th  (Tues.)
Film Screenings
Class meeting. Final Exam. 12-2 PM Hotel Classroom

25th (Wed.)
Film Screenings
Check out of Hotel/Fly Home


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