In 2004, a colleague and I came up with the idea of taking undergraduate students to the Sundance Film Festival. The original goal was to provide our students with an immersive learning experience. None of us had ever attended Sundance, but we were convinced that if we could just get our students there, something special would happen. We have returned to Sundance every year for their festival since 2004, while we have also added Ebertfest and Edinburgh to the festival list. Attending film festivals with students remains one of my most rewarding and engaging teaching experiences.
Festivals give students access to talented individuals and allow students to frame the interactions with their own levels of curiosity. You could never duplicate in the classroom the excited and lively exchange when a group of students engaged Werner Herzog in a discussion on “Grizzly man“(2005). John Waters was very generous to my students as we rode the bus between the theaters of Park City. And listen to Haskell Wexler discuss the importance of “In the Heat of the Night” (1967) with students remains one of my most beloved Ebertfest memories.
The immersive nature of the festival means that the learning never ends and takes place in a variety of environments. Learning takes place while waiting in line, traveling in buses, during movie Q&A sessions, over meals; where two or more are together there is opportunity for learning. This learning outside the classroom can be exhausting, but it is rarely tedious. During the festival there are no students, there are no teachers, we are all active participants in the experience. Under normal circumstances, most of us may avoid trying to watch four to six movies in a single day, but the energy of a festival makes watching multiple movies in one day not just an opportunity but a goal. We will not miss anything.