Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Sundance: Giving artists freedom to fail
(Courtesy photo)  
Owen Wilson stars in "Bottle Rocket," the 1996 comedy that was director Wes Anderson's first movie. The film, which launched the careers of Wilson and his brother Luke in spite of being rejected by the Sundance Film Festival, will screen Jan. 20 at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival -- as part of "Free Fail," a day of events celebrating the idea of failure.
(Courtesy photo)  
Writer and curator Sarah Lewis was photographed by a stranger, an 8-year-old girl with her family, while on a visit to Utah's Salt Flats for her book "The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery."
Sarah Lewis, author of “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery” Courtesy Simon & Schuster
Sarah Lewis, author of “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery."Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Sarah Lewis, author of “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery." Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

Failure isn’t usually a hot topic for filmmakers touting their work in the screening and dealmaking rooms at the Sundance Film Festival, but it is one of the intellectual obsessions of art curator and writer Sarah Lewis. She has spent 15 years exploring the roadblocks, U-turns and detours that are part of the creative process. Now she’s bringing the ideas from her new book, “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery,” to the festival, where she’s headlining Monday’s Free Fail day, a series of panels and workshops devoted to exploring the often-taboo topic.

Failure isn’t usually a hot topic for filmmakers touting their work in the screening and dealmaking rooms at the Sundance Film Festival, but it is one of the intellectual obsessions of art curator and writer Sarah Lewis. She has spent 15 years exploring the roadblocks, U-turns and detours that are part of the creative process. Now she’s bringing the ideas from her new book, "The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery," to the festival, where she’s headlining Monday’s Free Fail day, a series of panels and workshops devoted to exploring the often-taboo topic.

Overlooking ‘Bottle Rocket’ » For Sundance festival director John Cooper, the topic of creative failure prompts mention of Wes Anderson’s 1996 film "Bottle Rocket," which launched the director’s iconic vision and the careers of Luke and Owen Wilson.

In retrospect, the film seems a perfect example of the Sundance indie ethos, underscoring the way festival programmers praise the singular visions that might not suit mainstream box-office tastes.

The only problem is that "Bottle Rocket" didn’t screen at Sundance, even though Anderson’s short of the same name was shown two years earlier. Programmers turned down the feature. "We are a film festival of discovery,"Cooper says, taking institutional blame for the decision. "How come we failed to discover Wes Anderson in that moment?"

That’s why, as part of Monday’s free fail events, the festival will screen "Bottle Rocket" as a reminder that sometimes even Sundance programmers make mistakes.

Story continues below

Cooper says he spends much of the rest of the year encouraging filmmakers who aren’t yet festival alums. "I always try to position Sundance as a fast-track to get to where you’re going," he says. "You can’t let not getting in change the course of your passion."

That’s not an easy lesson, according to Lewis, who says artists often perceive that failure, or even talking about it, is taboo. "The message comes to us from every single outlet we have, starting with schools. Every school champions achievement and success," Lewis says. "No one teaches you to aspire to the setback. People teach you to avoid them."

Her book offers an intellectual re-examination of the creative process, and it’s rich with ideas, brimming with thoughtful examples from sports and history, as well as from creative artists.

Learning to fall — or fail » It can be hard, and expensive, if you’re a filmmaker who has experienced public failure. Box-office failures can make it difficult — or impossible — to secure funding for your next film.

It might be easy for filmmakers to envy visual artists, or others, who might have the luxury of quietly putting aside failed artworks or just slapping new paint over the canvas, Cooper says. To help replicate that experience of public vulnerability, Sundance organizers included workshops — including learning a kick sequence with a Rockette or how to take the worst Instagrams ever with the company’s co-founder — where attendees are certain to fail.

Next Page »
Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, click the red "Flag" link below it. See more about comments here.

Sundance Film Festival » Learning to embrace failure can help artists succeed, author Sarah Lewis argues.

At a glance

Talking about failure at Sundance

For information about Monday’s events, search for the hashtag #freefail on Twitter.

Filmmakers on failure

Sundance filmmakers explain what they learned from their biggest creative failures.

Stephanie Soechtig, director of “Fed Up,” in the U.S. Documentary Competition » “In this world, we measure success by money earned. And my first documentary, “Tapped,” didn’t get into Sundance and it wasn’t a great box-office success. But it has been shown on hundreds of campuses that have now banned bottled water. So there were times when I thought “Tapped” was such a failure and I was really down in the dumps that I made the movie. But I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s had such a social impact. What it has accomplished socially is a great success. This sounds [like a ] cliché, but every bad thing becomes a learning experience.”

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, filmmakers of the Nick Cave documentary, “20,000 Days on Earth” » “The thing we never told anyone while we were making the film was that we were always prepared to fail. There’s a freeing up that happens when you accept failure as a very real option. The most important thing to learn from failure is how to fail better next time.”

Latest in Utah News

 
Jobs
 
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.