Here are some of the movies (mostly narratives) that surprised and delighted me during the festival's first 20 years, gleaned from world, regional and competition premieres (and listed chronologically). All are available on DVD. These are just a handful, of course, but any and all ensure a satisfying moviewatching experience if you want a mini-Sundance festival in your own TV room.
A primitive black-and-white character piece about two small-town Texas rednecks. One of only six films in the first festival's independent competition, and still, arguably, the best example of the competition's spirit and intent.
A warm and completely engrossing true tale of a widow in 1910 Wyoming and her unlikely marriage to a stern Scottish homesteader, starring 30something Conchata Ferrell (now the housekeeper on "Two and a Half Men") and Rip Torn.
A thrilling documentary chronicling the unbelievable but true adventures of Werner Herzog as he struggles to film his epic "Fitzcarraldo" in the Amazon jungle.
The surprise plot twist that happens early in Woody Allen's period fantasy was unknown to the audience that viewed it for the first time and its revelation was a truly magical experience. (A few months later, as it was preparing to open its commercial run, the trailers gave it all away.)
A low-key look at an elopement that results in parental estrangement in a small Texas town, circa 1917 (written by the great Horton Foote).
Horton Foote's beautiful story of an aging woman (Oscar-winner Geraldine Page) in conflict with her married children when she decides to board a bus for her hometown. (Produced by local filmmaker Sterling Van Wagenen.)
A hilarious documentary that starts out as a retracing of the title Civil War campaign but turns into a personal diary of filmmaker Ross McElwee's hapless love life (including a date with a Mormon girl).
The lovely true story of a New York book lover (Anne Bancroft) and the London bookseller (Anthony Hopkins) with whom she corresponds over two decades.
Zhang Yimou's gorgeous, meticulously detailed look at the hazards of polygamy in 1920s northern China, starring Gong Li.
John Sayles' enchanting fantasy about a 10-year-old girl in an Irish coastal village who encounters a fanciful half-human, half-aquatic selkie.
A highly entertaining documentary about the artists responsible for the animated classics created during Disney's most fruitful years, the 1930s through the 1950s, built around stories told by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.