Sundance Film Festival is about new voices and diversity |

Sundance Film Festival is about new voices and diversity

Sundance founder, actor, producer and director Robert Redford makes a point about diversity during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival's opening press conference on Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre. (Shane/Park Record)

Sundance Film Festival’s goal was to create opportunities for new voices in film.

That’s what Sundance founder Robert Redford said when he and Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Festival Director John Cooper addressed a crowd of international reporters during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival’s opening press conference held at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City and moderated by Salt Lake Tribune film critic Sean P. Means.

This week, audiences will have plenty of opportunities to hear those fresh voices.

Out of more than 12,700 submissions, Cooper, programmer Trevor Groth and their staff selected 195 feature and short films for this year’s event that will run through Sunday, Jan. 31.

Of those films, 49 were made by first-time filmmakers. There are 37 countries represented in the feature films and 21 countries represented in short films.

Redford gave credit to Cooper, Groth and the staff for dealing with the "monster" of submissions.

"There is a lot of pressure on the group that puts this together," Redford said.

Still, the programmers look for the same thing as it has since day one.

"The criteria hasn’t changed," Cooper said. "We’re still looking for new voices. We’re looking for original ways to tell stories. We’re looking for creativity that is changing across the different platforms."

Sundance shows the films that are on the filmmakers’ minds.

"Especially in the documentary realm," Cooper said. "A number of years ago, we had four films about the financial crisis. Now, there are [other issues] that are permeating our reality."

Those issues include guns in America, lawmakers chipping away at what should be legal surrounding abortion, according to Cooper.

"But also, there are a whole lot of documentaries that aren’t issue-driven," he said. "What we have noticed is the changing face of documentaries in general."

Filmmakers are using animation, reenactments and graphics to make their films stand out.

"Documentary filmmakers are thinking in the more theatrical [realm] to bring the audience in," Cooper said.

The three also addressed diversity in the mainstream film industry, which has garnered even more attention in the wave of the growing boycott of this year’s Academy Awards event.

"Diversity comes out of the world of independence and it’s an automatic thing," Redford said. "If you’re independent minded, you’re going to do things differently from the common form. That’s something that we’re generally proud of."

"The first thing we want to do is make sure we reach into the populations that we want to reach," Putnam said. "We have a seat at the table in terms of providing a constructive voice of decision makers to take a look at [these voices] and the talent."

Many new filmmakers are also finding nontraditional ways to create their art, and one big avenue is explored in the festival’s New Frontier program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

"[New Frontier curator] Shari Frilot has almost infiltrated the art world and told them if you are using moving images, you need filmmakers to help tell stories," Cooper said.

"What’s cool about New Frontier is it’s about where technology and story are meeting," Putnam said. "It’s always a little ahead [of the game], and it’s really fun to see what’s next."

The Sundance Film Festival will run through Sunday, Jan. 31. For more information, visit

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