Jess Cagle
January 27, 2012 AT 05:00 AM EST

In case you didn’t notice, we get very excited about the Oscars here at EW. But we’re also quite jazzed about an entirely different group of movies, playing in the mountains of Utah at the Sundance Film Festival, which began on Jan. 19. This year Sundance had an especially good lineup of independent films in search of distributors, starting with Lauren Greenfield’s spectacular documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a billionaire family under siege, which was promptly snapped up by Magnolia Pictures.

I was smitten with every movie I saw (with the possible exception of a new Wuthering Heights adaptation that I like to call Over Two Hours of Wind on a Soundtrack). Ironically, despite all the buzz emanating from Sundance, the term ”independent film” doesn’t have the same cachet it had two decades ago, when movies like Pulp Fiction ushered in a sort of indie golden era. Since then, indies have become victims of their success. Major studios got in the game. Home entertainment made small art-house films as readily available as big-budget blockbusters. We stopped thinking of indies as a genre of their own. It’s a shame, because generally speaking, indies are the most interesting movies out there — and getting more interesting thanks to advances in (cheap) digital technology and new venues of distribution. I have made peace with the fact that the big Hollywood studios are really in the business of sequels and superheroes; I actually love super-heroes and have often found great joy in sequels (see: Toy Story 3). But we’ll have to look — more and more — to indie filmmakers for risky, original stories. Back in the ’90s, EW was a vocal cheerleader for the indie resurgence. We’re a proud sponsor of Sundance. And we’ve always shared our excitement over great movies, whether they’re produced by a studio or financed through Kickstarter. But going forward, I’m reinforcing our commitment to independent cinema with regular ”Indie Watch” features in EW, including this issue’s coverage of Sundance. We need indies to thrive. So does Hollywood, because indies breed each new generation of great filmmakers. It’s not like you can buy the next Christopher Nolan at Fred Segal.

This year, as always, EW was right in the middle of Sundance — literally. At our elaborate photo and digital studio on Main Street, stars and filmmakers from Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer to Peter Jackson came through to pose for EW’s photographer, Christopher Beyer, and sit down for video interviews. Special thanks to our studio’s sponsors — Essie, HP, Acura, and Chinet — and a big round of applause for EW’s stalwart Sundance team. Getting photographed by EW has become a favorite rite of passage for casts at the festival. You can see the portraits in this issue (page 18) and on, and bonus portraits on EW’s tablet version.

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