In between the lackluster press conference replacing the not-so-Golden Globes and the open question of whether or not the Academy Awards will even take place, there emerges a festival with an entirely different take on the work of creating and celebrating films.
Robert Redford's annual Sundance Film Festival, which runs from Jan. 17 through 24, marks the biggest week for the Sundance Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of independent artists and their work. Artists from around the world submit their videos to be viewed and critiqued by international film aficionados.
For the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, 122 feature-length films were selected from a record 3,624 submissions, including 88 world premieres and works by 55 first-time filmmakers. And though it is the mission of the Sundance Institute to inspire novice and risk-taking artists, the festival holds cachet with the Hollywood studios. Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2" debuted in the out-of-competition premieres section, and has since scored a $10 million deal with Focus.
As the creator of Sundance, Redford felt the need to forge a path away from Hollywood and toward the independent filmmaker who had previously lacked funding or support. In an interview with Peter Travers for ABC News Now's "Popcorn," Redford said, "To me, the magic of story … and families communicating their history by telling stories was a big deal. With new technology overwhelming storytelling, I thought, let's put our emphasis on storytelling."
And Redford's purist philosophy finds a home in the rugged landscape of the Sundance Festival. When selecting Park City, Utah, as the locale for the Festival, Redford asked, "What if you put it in nature? What would that do to the process of these filmmakers coming and having nature as part of the equation? Maybe that would affect them in a spiritual way." But Redford admits there were logistical factors as well. "I had no choice. If I had wanted to do it somewhere else, I don't think I could because of the expense."
Monetary limitations aside, Redford believes Utah to be the optimal environment in which to view and appreciate film. He explains: "When the greed factor came in and took over exhibition, now you're jamming people in and out of theaters as fast as possible to get an extra screening in, to get a few extra bucks." Redford had a different idea in mind, and asked, "What if we go back to that point where film had a different place?"
This need to get back to basics reflects a shift Redford detected in the filmmaking industry. He laments that "actors got tired of what happened in the mainstream, where you get blown up in outer space. … Agents came, then the celebrities came, and the paparazzi came."
Sundance has grown since its inception in 1981, and now attracts people with an appeal all its own. "The people who say, 'Hey there's something hot there at Sundance,' they come and say, 'Hey they're nonprofit. They operate on a shoestring, we can put a lot of dough, rent out a store and sell our product,' which has nothing to do with the festival."
But as the festival grew in popularity, the Hollywood "It" crowd rushed to crash the party. And with that, the photographers and market ambushers also made their way out to Utah, a fact that Redford does not celebrate. Instead, Redford notes the irony of the presence of certain attendees, such as hard-partying heiress Paris Hilton, who is now a regular at Sundance. He quips that participants in the festival now "invite celebs to come. "They take a lot of photos," he said. "That's why you end up with someone like Paris Hilton, who has nothing to do with what we're about." But Redford remains inclusive, adding that "[Hilton] can come if she wants."
And though Sundance has been going since 1981, this year marked a milestone for the intrepid director. Redford's 37-year old daughter, Amy, directed and premiered her indie film "The Guitar." Redford welcomed the film, looking at it through the dual lens of an impressed director and a proud dad. "I've always encouraged my kids to be independent and follow their own path. Amy grew up with Dad in the industry. … I'm thrilled for her and very, very proud of her."
So with a daughter involved in Sundance and a record number of new film submissions for 2008, Redford shows no signs of slowing down. He promises to stay true to his original vision by "being very much involved in the design of the festival, and making sure we're staying true to our mission; which is to promote new work."