The Sundance Film Festival didn't get to thirty without doing something right, and part of that lies in how they’ve marketed themselves over the years. Anyone in this business will admit that crafting an identity onto a yearly event is no small feat, especially when film iconography has become a series of cliches throughout the years. Breathing new life into old tropes while reinterpreting the face of an institution asks for more than any mere mortal is capable of, which is why the wizard behind the curtain is often a team at a small design studio or a multidisciplinary branding agency.
Sundance has reached out to both throughout its life, wrangling in the occasional creative nomad here and there. Their most innovative facelifts, and some of their least inspired, have come from both sides of the fence - no one path guarantees success more than the other. Creative flourishment one year could just as easily herald a drought in the next.
But if there’s a constant to be found throughout the years, it’s how each identity has been representative of the time in which it was created. Designers often miss the forest for the trees by damning work for feeling dated and dismissing anything that fails to transcend the world to which it was born in. Sundance may be a film festival with an independent vision held yearly in the snowy hills of Park City, Utah, but our culture and the way we interpret the world around us is less static. Regularly our tastes shift as the visual world around us comes to reflect our shifting desires, and what was once en vogue is violently cast aside in favor of it’s complete opposite. Filmmaking is no different, and it’s entirely appropriate for a festival identity to follow in its stead.
While a poster is only one piece of an enormous puzzle that markets a yearly institution like Sundance, it gives a glimpse into the shifting sensibilities surrounding the eras to which they were a product of. Thirty years of windows into not only the tone of each campaign, but the ways in which they inhabited the visual culture of the time to position the festival within the public consciousness. One moment we see glimpses of 1980s Madison Avenue staring back at us, and in the next we’re feeling the full weight of 90s post-modernism. The madcap complexity of the early 2000s sharply turns in the opposite direction and makes an impassioned run at bright, colorful simplicity.
Lately, we’ve entered the age of strategic branding, not uncommon in its approach to dozens of other corporate entities that we interact with on a daily basis. A new year of Sundance is here, and its identity continues in the wake of the last few years before it. The strongest years for the festival’s visual identity have found a new, startling approach in communicating the recognizable, while the weakest limp across the finish line, servicing the basic needs of the client before fading into the background. What slot does today’s work fit into, and what does it say about the everchanging tastes of our culture?
1988; Saul Bass
2000; Don Morris Design
2001; Appetite Engineers
2010; Durre Design
2011; Durre Design