Will Sundance 2010 chart indie film's future?

Talk about pressure.

Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper may have the entire independent film industry riding on him. So says New York Times writer Brooks Barnes, positing on Thursday, hours before the Festival kicked off, that “this might very well be the most important Sundance in years.”

Hailing Cooper’s moves to bring Sundance back to its original focus on arty, rather than commercial, films — highlighting smaller, grittier pictures; de-emphasizing splashy studio premieres; introducing the new NEXT category, dedicated to movies with miniscule budgets — Barnes notes that this shifting emphasis could make a real difference not just to the character of the Festival, but to the economy-ravaged indie film industry as a whole.

“Will Mr. Cooper’s Sundance help get this corner of moviedom back on track by focusing attention more squarely on innovation? Many people think the only way to resuscitate the indie sector is to make it more of a laboratory again — to un-nest it from the overtly commercial motion picture business,” he writes. “Or will such a move hurt? These filmmakers need money, and if the buyers do not see marketability, they are not going to pry open their wallets very far.”

Industry insiders appear hopeful that Sundance 2010 will begin to provide answers to such weighty questions. “This year’s festival will definitely help us figure out what the future is,” producer Christine Vachon tells Barnes.

Or, as Parlay Media cofounder Kevin Iwashina puts it, “This potentially could be the beginning of the beginning — the renaissance we’ve all been hoping for.”

Let the beginning of the beginning begin!