Sundance hits quarter century

Redford talks about the joys of change, Obama's inauguration, a Middle East move and Proposition 8.

by Amber Wilkinson

Change is in the air in America. With Barack Obama set for inauguration next Tuesday, the mood at Sundance - which has always worn its left-wing credentials on its sleeve - is upbeat. The feeling has rubbed off on Robert Redford at the opening day press conference.

Gone was the angry "Kid" we've seen at press briefings in former years, railing at the Bush administration and the rise of ambush marketing, replaced by a beret-wearing (at least initially), laidback Redford at ease and excited about the festival's 25 year history - "I keep hearing that it's our 25th anniversay... but I don't know what it is. It feels like for the last three years or so we've been celebrating our 25th anniversary". He kicked off proceedings at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street saying: "If you have any questions...don't ask them." But it wasn't long before he and Director of the Sundance Film Festival Geoffrey Gilmore were taking queries from the floor.

It also wasn't long before the questions turned towards The White House. "If the attendance that day thins out a little bit that won't bother me," said Redford. "I'm just glad to see the gang who can't shoot straight get out of there. I'm just glad to see them gone.

"We've got a lame duck guy going out but he sure is doing a lot of quacking in the last little while."

Change, Redford says it isn't just about that individual moment "it's the time before and the time that is to come".

He reflected on the fact that a long-term view has lain at the heart of the festival since the beginning. "For us it's always been a long-term view, starting with 'would we survive'. Frankly, I didn't know if we would. It was risky."

Talking about his ideas for establishing a festival to help expand independent film to more mass appeal - and give the filmmakers who had, by that time, been attending the labs* since 1981 a place to showcase their resultant work, he adds: "On a personal note, I like independence."

Inevitably, given the current economic climate, the subject of cash and the lack of it, came up. Not just in terms of the added difficulties for filmmakers in finding funding but also in the dearth of places where filmmakers can have their work screened. Even those independent films with good critical acclaim often struggle to make back the cash for distributors, while many others, despite being excellent, are destined to never make it even into arthouse cinemas.

Redford says there shouldn't be a wall between art and commerce, although there has been to a degree.

"Sundance... the place where the work happens about 40 miles from here. What we do by inviting the public in to watch our process is to say art and commerce can coexist. We hope to be able to develop that concept. Whether we're going to achieve or not, we'll see."

One less welcome change this year, however, has caused a problem for Sundance - Proposition Eight, which outlawed gay marriage in California. Since the Cinemark boss Alan Stark made a large personal donation (just shy of $10,000) in support of the proposition and Cinemark own the Holiday Village cinemas where many films are screened during the festival, this led to calls for a boycott of the festival. Since then there have been machinations and Sundance, with all films there being offered at a different venue, too, so that those who wish to observe boycotts can.

Citing the festival's long-term support for films from all sections of the community, right from the outset, Redford stressed: "Diversity is the name of our game”.

Diverse venues certainly seem to be beckoning, with the pair of them confirming that talks are ongoing with a view to setting up a festival in the Middle East to expand opportunity.

Redford did reveal that there were still hurdles to be overcome and that the rumoured Abu Dhabi might not yet go ahead, saying: “When you get too many cooks in the kitchen, you slow down the parade.” He added, however, that they are keen to move into "that territory".

Wrapping up with some warm words on the future and on opening night film Mary And Max, it seems one thing is for sure, there's no change in Redford's commitment to independent film.

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