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Sundance 2013, Oscars 2014?

As the 2013 festival circuit kicks off, the Oscar nominees are a strong reminder of the role festivals play in launching prize-winning films.

Reading the Oscar nominations list, it can feel like a recap of the last year in film festivals: we’ve got the winner of Sundance, the winner of Cannes, a smattering of Berlinale picks and a slew of Toronto titles in the mix.

It is a good time to remember how important a festival can be to a film’s life, as the 2013 festival circuit gets underway this week with Sundance.

Let’s pretend the programmers at Sundance had decided Beasts Of The Southern Wild wasn’t right for their programme in January 2012. Would that film now boast four Oscar nominations? Arguably not. It becomes the third Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner in four years to get a best picture nod.

Sure the film would have been shown at another festival, and likely still been sold to the US, but without that hugely important Sundance seal of approval, I doubt it would have sold as widely internationally and become such an indie darling. Beasts might not have even been made were it not for Sundance as a wider organisation: the project was developed at several Sundance labs.

And as Sundance’s documentary programme goes from strength to strength, it should also be noted four of this year’s five documentary feature Oscar nominees showed at Sundance 2012.

Toronto is also a huge awards launchpad. Its Audience Award winner has become a steady Oscars predictor since the prize was first given in 1978.

In the past 34 years, the TIFF audience prizewinners have scored 105 Oscar nominations, and many recent winners have ended up as best picture nominees. This year’s winner, Silver Linings Playbook, is no exception.

Also, is it a coincidence that 2011’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Artist won the Oscar last year, and 2012’s Palme d’Or winner Amour has a whopping five nominations? That’s while Intouchables was shut out despite earning a jaw-dropping $428m at the global box office.

Festivals can be many things to many people — a place to sell your film, a place to get your film reviewed, a place to get your film seen by the only audience that might ever watch it, or a place to simply network and crash parties. But these Oscar nominations remind us that festivals can also be one of the most powerful ways to launch a film into the awards race.

So as we head into Sundance, will we see any best picture nominees among the 2013 crop? Can we start talking about Oscars 2014 with films such as jOBS, Breathe In, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints or Alex Gibney’s WikiLeaks doc? We’ll know in the next few days.

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