3D Makes Impact At Sundance

By J. Sperling Reich | January 30, 2008 10:39 pm PST

Last week at the Sundance Film Festival one of the hottest tickets in Park City, the Utah mining town cum ski resort in which the festival is held, was to the premiere of the concert film “U2 3D”. Like at the Cannes Film Festival, all four members of the Irish rock group U2 showed up to promote the film. Unlike in Cannes, they did not perform on the red carpet. This may have been due to the snowy weather and freezing temperatures which dipped into the teens on most nights.

Even before the film officially screened at the festival, there was a flurry of media attention focused on the premiere sparked in part by Dolby Laboratories’ press release announcing that the film would be screened using Dolby 3D technology. This wasn’t much of a surprise given that Dolby has been sponsor and providing sound support to the festival for many years now. Sarah Pierce, the director of operations for the Sundance Film Festival pointed out that Dolby wound up being the perfect technology for exhibiting films in 3D:

“. . . it allows us to easily switch between 3D and 2D films. Since we have a full slate to screen, we cannot afford to devote one theatre entirely to 3D. By using the white screens already in place, we can shift between formats within minutes.”

What Pierce was referring to is the color filtering technology Dolby licensed from Infitec that allows 3D films to be screened without the use of a special silver screen, the kind used by Real D to display films in 3D. However, this also meant that the festival would have to provide more than 1,200 pairs of Dolby’s special shutter glasses to view the premiere, rather than the cheap disposable polarized lenses which Real D requires. At upwards of $50 a pair one can only imagine Dolby was biting their fingernails hoping festival goers didn’t walk off with them as a souvenir.

Sundance is primarily known as a film festival meant to promote independent films and while the titles in the premiere section of the event have been known to attract celebrity attendance, it is safe to say U2, arguably one of the most popular rock bands in the world, is one of the biggest names to ever slush their way through the snow into one of the event’s screenings. And as is the case at Sundance, the press was there to cover every moment. One piece that truly captured what it was like to be at the Eccles Theatre where “U2 3D” premiered appeared on Conde Nast’s Portfolio where Fred Schruers wrote:

“. . . a solidly enjoyable experience for not just U2 fans but anyone who wants to see where exhibition technology is heading.”

Even BusinessWeek tried to raise their hipness factor by having their media columnist Jon Fine write about the premiere. His piece uses the “U2 3D” premiere as a means to examine how the film industry is in a time of transition, fighting to maintain a dwindling audience as it searches for “a technological silver bullet”. Most of Fine’s column details the tech panels he attended, before eventually turning to the premiere, of which he was admittedly impressed:

“The film was gorgeous; refreshingly, few objects and people popped out at you, although at one point Bono reached so far out of the screen that you could practically smell what was under his fingernails. . . I don’t care for U2, but the experience was undeniable. For a brief time, a thousand of us sat agape in the dark, utterly submerged in an ocean of visual delight. For a brief time at Sundance, no one checked e-mail or chatted on the cell.”

Speaking from personal experience, sitting through a screening at the Sundance Film Festival in which nobody checks email or answers a cell phone call is definitely a newsworthy occurrence.

J. Sperling Reich