The Sundance Film Festival, which kicked off last night and runs through January 29 in snowy Park City, Utah, has become the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film and a requisite schmooze-fest for industry players and aspirants. If you have an indie film and you want anyone to see it, all roads lead to Sundance, and vice versa.
Now in its 25th year, the Festival, presented by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, features 120 dramatic and documentary feature-length films in seven categories, and 80 short films each year. The Sundance has an enviable record of introducing a number of iconic films over the last two decades, including sex, lies and videotape, Clerks, Smoke Signals, Boys Don’t Cry, American Splendor, Napoleon Dynamite, Born into Brothels , and Me and You and Everyone We Know.
But Unspam Technologies, an anti-spam firm based in Park City, is sick of the traffic and noise and wants you to stay home; so, using advanced statistical technology, they analyzed the last ten years of films in the dramatic and documentary film competitions in an effort to pick this year’s winners and losers without having to, you know, watch the movies or anything.
What did they analyze? Specifically, they data-mined the official Festival film guides from the last ten years, which are written by the Sundance selection committee members, all of whom, of necessity, have seen the movies to be screened. Info found in each description includes where the film will screen, when it will premier, how many times it will be shown, and who will actually write the review that appears in the film guide. For each of the more than 360 films in the dramatic and documentary competitions over the last ten years, they gathered over 200 data points.
Quoth Unspam on the process, which they call Deconstructing Sundance, “To determine the ultimate success of these films, we then scoured the Internet Movie Database and other sources of movie information. We took into account user ratings of films, box office receipts, and other measurable factors to quantify a movie’s success. We also took into account any awards given in the Sundance competition itself with special weight given to the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Awards.”
Testing the process on measurable “success data” from previous year’s films, Unspam estimates an 81% accuracy rate on a year by year basis.
So what did they find? Based on the data, the standout films of this year’s Dramatic Competition are predicted to be Come Early Morning, Flannel Pajamas, The Hawk is Dying, Somebodies, Stay, and Stephanie Daley.
The best films of this year’s Documentary Competition are predicted to be God Grew Tired of Us, The Grand Truth: After the Killing Ends, So Much So Fast, ‘Tis Autumn — The Search for Jackie Paris, and Wide Awake.
“The models predict that this will be a better than average year for dramatic films, and a slightly worse than average year for documentary films,” said David Wortham, an engineer at Unspam heading up the Sundance predicting project.
“While the predictions are all in fun, there is extremely sophisticated math behind them,” said Unspam CEO Matthew Prince. “Of course, we wouldn’t advise any studio execs to make decisions based only on our predictions. If a studio does buy one of the films we’ve predicted to be a hit, our engineers have told me they’d be happy to attend any acquisition parties to provide the irrefutable statistical data to backup the studio’s decision.”