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Nicole LaPorte checks in from Park City, Utah on the eve of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival's official kick-off.

Already, there’s the annual debate: will this year’s festival be another Hollywood-infused red carpet extravaganza, flush with A-list names more typically seen this time of year on the slopes of Aspen? Or will it harken back to its true, indie roots-to a time when only the cool kids knew who Parker Posey and Chloe Sevigny were?

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Sundance Theater (SundanceChannel.com)

The reality? Probably both. But there are good signs of the latter scenario prevailing. Indie darling Kevin Smith, one of the original Sundance progeny, is back this year, with his film Red State. As is a (relatively) more recent festival discovery: Miranda July, who’s bringing The Future, her follow-up to Me and You and Everyone You Know. And the documentary category is feeling particularly strong, with Page One, Andrew Rossi’s inside look at The New York Times, and the ubiquitous Alex Gibney’s film about the Merry Pranksters (Magic Trip), to name just a few.

CROWDFUNDED MOVIES

How Crowdfunding Can Get You Money Online

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Sundance Film Festival 2011 (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

As the Sundance welcomes its first crowdfunded film, here's a look at the rise of websites that make it easier than ever to get funding from strangers online.

Matthew Lessner has a lot of strangers to thank.

As the clock strikes midnight tonight inside Park City’s Holiday Village Cinemas on the second day of the Sundance Film Festival, his indie satire The Woods will make its premiere in front of a sold-out crowd.

It nearly didn’t happen.

It was late summer, in 2009, and Lessner was running out of money as he neared the completion of his film. His credit was drying up too. So he turned to a website called Kickstarter.com. “With your help and support (whoever you may be) we hope to make the dream of finishing and releasing—what we believe to be a truly unique and dynamic film—a reality,” he wrote to nobody in particular. “Help us save The Woods!”

Before long, nearly 100 people he’d never met had given him $11,584 to complete his project and help send it to the prestigious annual festival in the mountain town of Park City, Utah.

With budget cuts drying up arts funding, the internet is fast becoming a reliable stream of revenue for people who have a dream and a plan—but not a lot of cash. And it’s not just for professional filmmakers, writers, artists, and inventors. Kickstarter and other websites like it are letting just about anyone with an interesting concept grab some free cash from their fellow benevolent web surfers to make their idea a reality.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Click here to see the coolest crowdfunding projects.

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