Sundance looks to future

Festival skips press conference as chiefs talk of evolution and revolution

by Amber Wilkinson

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana
Taylor Swift: Miss Americana Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
In an unusual move, Sundance Film Festival has decided not to hold a Day One press conference this year, instead "evolving" it into a Day One press kit featuring video clips from many of those involved.

The festival is in a state of managed flux at the moment, as this edition marks the 11th and last with John Cooper as festival director, before he takes up the newly created role of emeritus director at the Sundance Institute. His replacement has not yet been appointed. And last year, festival founder Robert Redford, 83, also announced he was going to "move on" after 34 years to a role that was les geared to introducing the festival and more geared to spending time with the filmmakers. It seems appropriate, then, as the festival looks ahead, that its theme this year is "imagined futures".

In place of the opening conference, the press kit contains a number of video clips. In one Sundance Institute director Keri Putnam thanked Cooper for his work down the years and made reference to the race for the White House. She said: "As we head into an election year, freedom of the press and freedom of expression more broadly are facing very serious threats in the US and around the world and when it comes to media and storytelling, audiences seemingly have infinite choices about what they consume.

"There is great work getting made but increasingly content is being selected by only a handful of globally dominant entities, served up by algorithms designed to keep you watching. So, when choices about what to watch are made for people by forces that aren't always visible and can't be controlled, not only do we miss out on challenging ideas and great art - it's dangerous.

"This is a moment that demands our participation as audiences, as artists and as citizens. This is a critical time for each of us to question why things are the way we are, to ask whose voices are being marginalised and why and to notice whose perspectives we aren't seeing and why not. And to recognise media has worth far beyond its market worth or what it makes at the box office. We believe that independent authentic storytelling is something all of us should demand."

John Cooper said: "This is my final year as director, and reflecting on the insane and this exhilarating ride of my last 30 years, it’s almost impossible to offer any summation.

"If anything, we’ve learned - as Bob has often reminded us - that change is the only thing that we can count on. We have evolved. We’ve built new theatres, we’ve adopted new technology.

"There’s a revolution in distribution going on, but through it all we’ve supported artists, we’ve opened our doors for millions of new storytellers to come in and be creative.

"Through it all, the character of this community has remained consistent. I find the same spirit here that I remember finding in 1990 – a long time ago. It’s a spirit of openness, of genuine affection for each other and for the work, and, dare I say, independence, and it’s a spirit of generosity. These are the qualities that make Sundance different, that make it what it is. And as we continue to change and evolve, let’s always remember to foster the spirit as it carries us forward."

Festival director of programming Kim Yutani added: "Thematically, there are some through-lines: families, both biological and chosen; the concept of home (and its limitations); and the power of passionate individuals to make real change in the world. But each work that tackles those concepts does so in a wildly individual way, which is a core tenet of the festival."

The festival opens tonight with a selection of films from across its various sections, including buzzed about documentary Taylor Swift: Miss Americana and Benajamin Ree's The Painter And The Thief, which features a lot more twists and turns than you might expect. Fiction features include Dear White People director Justin Simien's horror film Bad Hair - about a woman whose hair weave has a mind of its own. As Robert Redford advises in his 2020 catalogue letter: "Buckle up."

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