Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.
Reporters flocked to the Egyptian Theatre to hear Robert Redford talk about the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at a press conference on Jan. 17. But only a handful attended round-table interviews with the founder later that day.
In Salt Lake magazine’s round-table, Redford gave his thoughts on this year’s festival, the festival’s future, Slamdance and more. Here are the highlights from that interview:
How as the Sundance brand changed over the years?
“The brand has not changed in terms of its purpose, but it has changed in terms of its size. It’s grown beyond what I ever imagined, but the purpose has remained the same . . . which is creating opportunities for new voices to be heard. And that can be expanded into other art forms.”
Has the festival come to fruition the way you had hoped?
“Yeah, it has. It has more than fulfilled a vision—it’s gone beyond that. I can’t be anything but happy about it. Now, it’s like wild horses. Hold them back and don’t let them run out of control. I think that’s the new challenge.
In terms of the original idea . . . what I found out is you’re not going to get any support for a new idea unless there’s some guaranteed money behind it. We are a non-profit, so that was out of the question. So, you have to do it yourself. You have to grind it out yourself and take it to the point where something is recognizable or there’s some kind of proof of profit, and then you can get some support. At the first festival, it was one theater in Park City in 1986. One theater—the Egyptian. There was no financial support . . . I tried to reach some local people I thought had money . . . the only person who stepped up was Mrs. Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies. And they wouldn’t give any money; they would just give free cookies.”
You have mentioned before that no Sundance filmmaker had ever asked you to be in his or her film, aside from J.C. Chandor recently for the film All Is Lost. Why is that?
“I have no idea . . . I went into film in 1964 and right away, I was an actor for hire, and I started to get anxious about stories that I would like to tell . . . So, if I was going to do Butch Cassidy or The Way We Were, I would ask ‘Would you allow me to make this smaller film?’—like Downhill Racer and The Candidate—and I was, provided it was lower budget . . . Then I thought about how many other people [didn't] have that opportunity—maybe I could do something . . . That’s where the idea came to create this. I thought, when I started it, it would be nice to be in some of these films, but nobody asked. And I never have figured out why.”
But now it’s not just Sundance, there are film festivals popping up all over. Would you still start Sundance today?
“If there was still a space to have an independent film festival, I would do it because it’s really that word ‘independent’ that interests me . . . I am happy that more films that are out there have more of a chance for distribution.”
“I don’t have any problem with it at all, because we can only show so many films. You can see the problem. [Park City] is bulging at the seams. We’ve probably taken it as far as we can. It now has to bleed out into other communities, like Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo. We can only show so many films, so I don’t have any problem. Whatever they call it doesn’t matter to me if they can show films we can’t show.”
There are lighter themes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. What are your thoughts on the changing mood?
“There’s more comedy, which I think is great. You can always use a little more comedy. Sometimes, things are too serious. Comedy usually comes at a time of duress. During the depression in the ‘30s, there was a lot of comedy. So, if that’s showing up now, I would suspect that it’s a reflection of the times. You can only be depressed so long.”
Speaking of duress, there are a lot of films with heavy subjects this year coming from places that are dangerous for the filmmakers, like The Square.
“That’s one of the reasons I think documentaries are so important . . . They take the time to dig in, and many of those documentarians are risking their lives to get their product . . . To me that’s a very brave thing. That’s film being brave.”
So much technology is no longer place-based, but mobile. What’s the role of Sundance as a place-based festival five to 10 years from now?
“I don’t know. That’s too far for me to predict. I can only tell you we’ll be there.”