Sundance kicks off with unexpected remarks from Robert Redford, emphasis on diversity
January 24, 2019
Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford may be stepping back from his role as the face of the nonprofit, if he means what he said during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival's opening day press conference on Thursday.
Redford stepped onto the stage at the Egyptian Theatre by himself and said, "Having done this for, God it's 34 years now since the festival started, I think we're at a point where I can move on to a different place."
Redford stopped and thanked the festival's volunteers, then said he didn't think the festival needed to be introduced anymore.
"I think it runs on its own course," he said to the room full of members of the international press. "So let me say, I am grateful you're all here."
He then turned the microphone over to Keri Putnam, the institute's executive director, said "bye" and walked off the stage.
As of Thursday afternoon, Sundance officials had not provided further clarification regarding Redford's comments.
While Redford's remarks were unexpected, the rest of the press conference proceeded as normal. Putnam praised the festival programmers and said they put together an "incredible" set of films this year.
Having done this for, God it’s 34 years now since the festival started, I think we’re at a point where I can move on to a different place.” – Robert Redford
She also reminded the audience that the festival, like the Sundance Institute, is a nonprofit organization.
"There is often a perception that the festival is a for-profit business, or separate from what the institute does, which is support artists all year long," Putnam said.
She said, referring to Redford's original vision for the festival, that it is one of the powerful ways the institute supports artists, sustains their careers and helps them amplify their work. Putnam cited this year's 14,200 film submissions, the most the festival has ever received, as proof.
"As Bob always envisioned, this festival is a home for independent artists from around the world to gather, to form a connected, creative community," Putnam said.
She also said Sundance remains a forum for independent voices, especially in light of the digital age, where stories are distributed with "the eye on views and clicks."
"This sort of public square is in short supply right now," Putnam said. "It's commerce, not purpose, that's driving most storytelling."
The result is that shallow and sensational content is prioritized, she said.
"The commercial media environment devalues independent media, and we're here to revalue it," Putnam said. "The role of the festival for us is about something bigger. It's about art. It's about culture. It's about community, and how artists will lead us to places we might not otherwise go."
Another priority for the festival this year is to elevate diversity of voices and perspectives, according to Putnam.
This year, Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival will publish demographics information regarding all the applicants to the festival and institute labs, she said.
"Knowing who's applying helps us understand the talent pipeline and where underrepresented talent may be falling out and how to direct our resources and efforts to represent the full spectrum of voices," Putnam said.
This is evident in the festival's theme — Risk Independence.
"Documentarians, in particular, risk being jailed, and even risk their lives for sharing their truths," Putnam said. "We're featuring work from several artists who nearly didn't get visas to travel to Sundance this year."
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Two artists — Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan and Iranian filmmaker Arman Fayaz, whose respective films "Aziza" and "Manicure" are in the festival — did not get visas due to President Trump's travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries, Putnam said.
"Their work will be here," Putnam said. "Their voices will be here."
The festival also credentialed more diverse press representatives this year. Sixty-three percent of accredited press are from underrepresented groups, she said.
"We realized later than we should have that the diverse community were premiering their works to mostly white, male critics," Putman said. "This lack of inclusion has real-world implications to sales, distribution and opportunity."
In addition to Putnam, Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, along with a panel that included programming director Kim Yutani, New Frontier Chief Curator Shari Frilot, Women at Sundance and Catalyst director Caroline Libresco and senior programmers John Nein and David Courier also spoke of the festival's diverse lineup.
The Sundance Film Festival will run through Feb. 3. For information, visit sundance.org.
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