Stepping back and forward at the Sundance opening press conference

Putnam on diversity push and Redford says he's ready for change

by Amber Wilkinson

Robert Redford at the Day One Press Conference of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival
Robert Redford at the Day One Press Conference of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Photo: © 2019 Sundance Institute/photo by Jemal Countess

Robert Redford said he was at a point where "I can move on" at the opening press conference for the Sundance Film Festival yesterday afternoon (January 24).

The festival founder noted that he had "done this for 34 years" as he addressed journalists ahead of the opening night.

The 82-year-old, who made a brief appearance before a question and answer session with a panel of programmers, added: "I think we're at a point where I can move on to a different place because the thing I've missed down the years is being able to spend time with the films and with the filmmakers and to see their work and be part of their community.

"I don't think the festival needs a whole lot of introduction now and I'm happy for it to run it's own course."

Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam, meanwhile, reaffirmed the festival's ongoing commitment to diversity, noting that they were the first festival to publish the demographic data of who was applying, so that they could see where there were problems in terms of the pipeline for certain groups.

She added that the festival realised that it "had a blind spot" in terms of who was attending as accredited press, with a skew towards white male critics.

She added: "This lack of diversity has real-world implications on sales, distribution, and opportunity, so we decided to do something about it - we vastly reshaped who we accredited. I’m proud to announce that 63 per cent of the credentialed press are from underrepresented groups this year.”

At the risk of putting myself into a news story, I can personally attest to this effort as I, along with several other critics from under-represented groups have either gained or been given improved credentials this year. So this critic says, thanks very much, Sundance, it's so good you've been listening.

Putnam also spoke about this year's festival theme - "Risk independence".

She noted that this was not just about the creative risks that filmmakers take but also the real-life risks, singling out documentarians who put their lives on the line, in particular. Putnam said that two filmmakers - which was "two too many" - from "Muslim-ban countries" had not been granted visas to attend the festival this year, Syrian director Soudade Kaadan and Iranian filmmaker Arman Fayyaz. She added: "But there work will be here. Their voices will be here."

The conference was also attended by festival director John Cooper, who said: "This festival is more relevant in divided times than ever." He was accompanied by his team of programmers, including new director of programming Kim Yutani.

The festival runs until February 3 and you can read our coverage here.

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