Take a look at the very first long-term brand for Sundance Film Festival

Porto Rocha pays homage to the institution debuting indie titles like Get Out and Little Miss Sunshine with a 16:9-aspect-ratio logo.

19 April 2023

Every year, the Sundance Film Festival redoes its identity completely to make room for a new round of film releases. Having worked this way for over 40 years – Sundance was established in 1985, making it the longest-running film festival in the US – the institution has released its first evergreen brand with New York agency Porto Rocha. The system will be used for Sundance’s core everyday communications and function as a framework for future temporary festival designs.

The work brings an entirely new look to Sundance; “the only element we had to consider as part of the system was the Sundance Institute logo, which remains the same”, explains founder Felipe Rocha. The agency has however developed a new logo for the Sundance Film Festival itself, inspired by cinema’s standard widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9.

Used for more than just recognition, the logo functions as a framing device when overlaid across footage and stills from the festival’s archive. This idea is central to Sundance’s new design which will frame not only future festival identities, but films and their creators too. Founder Leo Porto explains: “Unlike previous years where the design solely promoted the two weeks of festival (usually through the repetition of graphic posters), the new identity system works more like a content-driven platform that highlights the stories and unique perspectives of independent filmmakers.”

Like the 16:9 logo, Porto Rocha references film strip cells throughout, with motion behaviour designed to support film footage. Dinamo’s Monument Grotesk typeface was chosen to signal the festival’s presence and for its ability to be neutral alongside diverse genres and titles.

While Sundance’s strategy of changing identities makes sense for a two-week “ephemeral” event, “it caused problems as SFF scaled and desired to build brand equity over time,” says Felipe. “The brand had more touch points, assets and year-round communication needs than a temporary design system could handle.”

“As part of the design process, our team did quite a bit of research of previous Sundance identities, most of which were driven by poster designs. Personal favourites include those from 1987 and 2003. As times changed, so did the festival's approach to branding. The concept of what an event identity should look like evolved into a more versatile design system that could accommodate multiple formats – a great example being the 2020 identity created by Studio Lowrie,” adds Felipe.

Though the founders note the importance of research to the work, the agency “didn't use any elements from the past as they were ephemeral and didn’t necessarily hold brand equity,” says Leo. Porto Rocha worked on the temporary assets for SFF 2024, and will help develop the identity for 2024.

GalleryPorto Rocha: Sundance Film Festival (Copyright © Porto Rocha, 2023)

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Porto Rocha: Sundance Film Festival (Copyright © Porto Rocha, 2023)

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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