THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL started in 1978, under the somewhat less catchy, definitely less Robert Redford-y name the Utah/US Film Festival. It's since turned into an annual ski vacation for Hollywood. But between then and now, it managed to give American cinema a swift kick in the ass.
The most exciting time for Sundance was in the late '80s and early '90s, when films like Paul Thomas Anderson's short Cigarettes & Coffee (1993) and Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) first made their marks. Into the '90s, everyone from Kevin Smith (Clerks, 1994) to Darren Aronofsky (Pi, 1998) to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project, 1999) showed that independent film could reach a far larger audience. But as I'll shout to anyone who'll listen, the big year was 1992, thanks to two of Sundance's selections: Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.
Twenty years later, it's tempting to use those two films as measuring sticks for how far independent cinema has come (and how far it hasn't), just as it's tempting to compare the 29-year-old who made Reservoir Dogs to the Tarantino of Inglorious Basterds, or the 23-year-old who made El Mariachi for $7,000 to the Rodriguez of Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World. It's easy to remember how Reservoir Dogs spawned a tsunami of Tarantino wannabes, and how Rodriguez's pioneering use of digital filmmaking tech accelerated its mainstream acceptance, or to pontificate about the duo's collaborations: Sin City, Grindhouse, From Dusk Till Dawn.
I'll leave that to the real film writers, and instead reiterate the obvious: It's not that Reservoir Dogs (vicious, funny, bloody) and El Mariachi (clever, charming, exhilarating) became as influential as they did, nor that they now serve as totems of indie cinema's explosion in the '90s. It's that—even now—these two low-budget, high-energy flicks are as fun and cool and exciting as they were back when a couple of twenty-something kids showed up with them at Sundance. In celebration of their 20th anniversaries, the Hollywood Theatre is showing 35mm prints of both of them. Go. Have fun.