Robert Redford - “We program like a festival, not a market.”
Sundance 2007 kicked off not so much with a bang as with a flashgun. Robert Redford strolled casually onto the stage of the Egyptian Theatre, half way up Park City’s Main Street, without so much as an introduction – but was soon greeted by a barrage of camera flashes.
Looking relaxed, in a black turtle-neck jumper and jeans and nursing a cup of coffee, he seemed more like a laidback teacher about to take assembly than one of the most influential characters in Indie filmmaking. But, as the folk at Sundance so frequently tell us, first appearances can be deceptive.
Old Red was in a jovial mood, beginning his greeting with: “Glad you’re here, this it where it started,” adding, after the first of many ringtones pierced the air, “there were no cellphones then.”
Joking aside, it’s clear Redford still feels passionately about film, particularly film on the fringes. He was keen to stress his love of documentaries – a favourite subject of his for some years now, and rightly so, since Sundance spearheaded the genre. As he puts it himself, back in 1986 he wanted to “be on the vanguard”.
The commitment continues, with Chicago 10 – a documentary about the riot and trial of seven Vietnam War protesters in 1968 – selected as the opening night film.
“We are making a statement about what we feel about documentary,” said Redford and added it’s to “remind people who we are”.
Redford also talked of the festival “coming of age” and said the American filmmakers had broadened their horizons down the years to think more globally and about bigger issues.
Last year, the 69-year-old seemed quite irritated by what he describes as “ambush marketers” – and many would agree with him. In the new found spirit of “coming of age” however, he seems to have moved on to the step of acceptance this year. Although he talked of the “outer tiers around us” he shrugged of worries, saying: “It should be fun” but warned against looking for ‘buzz’ films.
He said: “A lot of stuff is not going to be commercial. That’s all right.”
“We program like a festival, not a market.”
Then it was Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore’s turn to get excited, saying: “Every single year there has been a sense of change. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a greater feeling of anticipation.”
Finally, Chicago 10 director Brett Morgan stepped up to the mic, describing the opportunity as a “huge honour”, adding, “I had no idea it would be this relevant.” - referring obliquely to Bush’s announcement of more troops to be sent to Iraq.
Finally, they took a few questions from the floor. One about the notion of political diversity at Sundance, asking whether it only catered to “the left” received a robust response from Redford.
“The left? I’m left-handed.”
He added: “Whatever you feel about moderation – I’m not very moderate – that has been taken off the board, so anybody reasonable has been painted as a leftie.”
All in all it was a feistier press conference than last year – and all the better for it. Long may their passion continue.