Greetings from Park City, Utah, where the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is underway. Throughout the next week, we’ll be bringing you coverage of the hottest movies and best events out here. Four feature films – Dinosaur 13, The Green Prince, Lilting, and Whiplash – were shown to the movie-going public on Thursday night, in addition to a shorts program. We’ll have a more extensive look at some of those films in the days to come. For now, let’s recap the highlights of the day one press conference, which took place at the Egyptian Theater at 1pm.
Sean P. Means of the Salt Lake Tribune moderated the panel, which included actor and director Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, Keri Putnam, the director of the Sundance Institute, and John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival. Enjoy a taste of the best moments below.
Q: Let’s start off with an awkward topic: you weren’t nominated for an Oscar for All is Lost today.
Redford: All is Lost for me was more of a pure cinematic experience. It gave me the chance as an actor to go back to my roots. I’m very happy about that film. It didn’t cross over to the mainstream. Hollywood is a business, a very good one. I have nothing but respect for them, it is what it is. When these films go to be voted on, usually they’re heavily defended on campaigns, and they can get political. We suffered from little to no distribution. I’m fine.
Q: How does the state of Utah play into this festival?
Redford: I came here because of the beauty, because of the state’s pioneer history. I wanted to preserve that. I said, let’s put it in Utah in the middle of winter, make it weird. It was a place to put this new concept of independent film, to create opportunities for new artists to come and develop and share that with the state and see what happens.
Putnam: In the last five years, the Sundance Film Festival has created $375 million of economic activity for state of Utah.
Q: How do you respond to critics who say that Sundance has become too mainstream?
Redford: It’s a good thing now to clarify who we are. The article implied that we’re not who we are because of box office receipts. That person was wrong. We’re about new voices and new ways of seeing the world using independent film.
Q: It’s the thirtieth year of Sundance – how do you think the mission has grown or maintained in that time?
Redford: If you strip away thirty years, the history and the product pretty much speaks for itself. At a New York film critics’ event I attended recently, David O. Russell and Alfonso Cuaron were there and being honored. They came through our labs. That gives me great pleasure, and it’s more satisfying than anything. When we first started Sundance labs, people were making films but there was nowhere for them to go. The ambition in creating the festival was simply to create a community of like-minded filmmakers to come and share their work.
Putnam: We’ve added a documentary program, a theater program, and more. We have eighteen labs at Sundance that support 400 artists during the year.
Cooper: On the festival side, increased excellence and creativity on the part of the artists. There are people who came here with shorts and then features, and now they’re here with premieres. This is our 30th year. We wanted to do something different, put a stake in the ground. We came up with failure as an issue, since it’s so crucial to creative process. On Monday, all the panels are going to be about that. The thing closest to my heart was to show a film that we failed to show first time around. We’ll be showing Bottle Rocket, and Luke Wilson will be coming to introduce it. We’re taking a serious look at what it means to fail, which is also a bit light-hearted.
Putnam: The workshops are all in things you’re destined to fail at.
Q: How does this year’s batch of films represent Sundance?
Cooper: It’s very healthy. We’ve seen an increase in aesthetic excellence, a cycle of better cinematographers and editors and casting directors, seasoned actors taking roles. Our categories are structured to represent films being made, like New Frontier and Premieres. Competition Next especially is rigorous and fun to program, featuring filmmakers that are on the edge and are going to be voice of independent film in the future.
Q: How can we help these films do business?
Redford: That’s not who we are. We wish them well but can’t follow them there. It’s other people’s business after that. Guys like Harvey Weinstein who always had a passion in independent film, that’s where it belongs. Independent film really is at the mercy of distributors. It’s our hope but not our business anymore.
Cooper: We think at sundance of impact, The Invisible War as changing policy, Blackfish as changing how things are done in the world. On the aggregate, I still have a sense that more independent films are being seen by audiences.
Putnam: We have a new program where we are providing resources to filmmakers who want to be independent from beginning to end. There are lots of pipelines and ways to get films seen, we want to empower that. We’re more of a learning organization.
Redford: Change is inevitable, either you resist it or you go with it. We want to ride with wave of change. Years ago, there was no texting, no iPhone. Since it’s come along, we’ve made our adjustments to accommodate that, we go with it. Look at how many films have been financed by Kickstarter.
Keri: On Kickstarter alone, we’ve helped artists raise over $7 million.
Q: Four of this year’s Oscar Best Documentary nominees played at Sundance last year. How do you feel about that?
Putnam: To the credit of the programming team, that’s been true for a couple of years.
Cooper: They are all different kids of documentaries. It’s great to see that the world is accepting nonfiction in a lot of different ways.
Q: The animated film Ernest and Celestine from Sundance Kids is also nominated.
Cooper: There’s a notion of creating a young audience for independent film. We want to make sure we don’t skip a generation and want to turn young people on to exciting medium of film that can be different from Hollywood. We weren’t expecting it to be nominated; we’re happy!
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer