Sundance Film Festival focuses on the stories told by filmmakers
Freedom expression runs both ways
January 20, 2017
One of the questions asked during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival opening-day press conference, which was held a day before Inauguration Day, fittingly addressed the festival’s role within President Donald Trump’s incoming administration.
When asked how the creative community of filmmakers could continue to spread hope and tolerance to minorities and others who may be neglected in the upcoming four years, Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford decided to clarify the Festival’s overall goal.
“We stay away from politics and stay focused on the stories that are told by artists,” Redford said during the Thursday afternoon conference at the Egyptian Theatre that included Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper.
“If politics come up in the stories these filmmakers are telling, so be it, but we are here to support the stories that are being told.”
Sometimes the role of the Sundance Film Festival gets confusing, Redford said.
“The idea of us being involved in politics is not so,” he said. “We feel it is far more important for the storytellers to tell the stories. We do not take a position.”
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Cooper said the festival will continue to do what it has done since the mid-1980s.
“What independent film does is show more of the human side of who we are and what we are,” he said. “It’s where you go to get these stories about other people, the issues from another angle.
“We’re going to stand behind our artists because this is what they do,” Cooper said. “Maybe they will need more support, and we are going to be there for that.”
As for looking ahead, Putnam said the Sundance Film Festival is a time to celebrate the festival’s founding values, including freedom of expression from all sides of the issues, especially when it comes to documentary film.
“I think the equality and importance of all voices — the idea that diverse voices make a difference is an important value for all the documentary journalists out there,” she said.
“These things have always been a core port of Bob’s founding vision and the programming here. [They’re] a piece that we’ll want to continue to affirm during these times.”
Out of this year’s 13,782 film submissions, The Sundance Film Festival received more than 1,701 documentary features. There were 823 made by U.S. filmmakers and 878 were made by international filmmakers.
Redford believes documentary films are more important than ever.
“I think documentaries have become more and more important as the news media has shrunk into a sound-byte world,” he said. “They have become more like long-form journalism, and they give a chance to really tell the story so the public has time to digest it.”
The press conference, which was moderated by John Horn, host of KPCC-FM's “The Frame,” also addressed the growing number of high-tech companies — such as Netflix, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook — that are now investing in films.
“It is a great extra set of opportunities for filmmakers,” Putnam said. “The global reach of those platforms and possibilities of getting in front of audiences everywhere is incredibly exciting, but also challenging from a marketing standpoint. That’s a conversation that a lot of artists will be thinking about.”
As the conference came to a close, Redford addressed the festival’s future, including whether or not it will remain in Utah.
In 2013, Park City Municipality and Sundance organizers reached a long-term deal to keep Sundance in Park City until at least 2026, as previously reported in The Park Record.
“This is a very appropriate question because any of you who have been here before can see the increased development that is going on [in Park City],” he said. “Pretty soon, the only way to grow is up. If that’s the case, the real question is will we be able to preserve a place for us in this city.”
Last year, the Sundance Film Festival’s attendance reached an estimated 46,600 people, with more than 31,000 who were from out of state, and the estimated economic impact on Utah's Gross State Product overall was $7.25 million, according to a press release that was handed out at the press conference.
“I know one thing,” Redford said. “We have a wonderful relationship with this city and the Mayor (Jack Johnson). They want to have us here. But I know at some point there will be a clash that we’re going to have to look at.”
The Sundance Film Festival will run through Sunday, Jan. 29. For information, visit sundance.org.