As Sundance begins, its leaders talk change and diversity |

As Sundance begins, its leaders talk change and diversity

If the essence of the Sundance Film Festival could be whittled down to two words they would be change and diversity.

That’s what Sundance Institute Founder Robert Redford said during the festival’s opening-day press conference Thursday afternoon at the Egyptian Theatre.

"I believe change is inevitable and some people like to go with change," Redford said as he and Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper and Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam addressed journalists. "Others don’t because they are afraid. I want to go with it because the festival has used change to create diversity."

Diversity, including filmmakers’ visions and philosophies, is something that the festival represents, Redford explained.

"Freedom of speech comes under heading of diversity. That ties into the word independence on which our country was established," Redford said. "That comes out of change and I think filmmakers roll with it and their films show the life we live and the society we live in."

Freedom of expression is of increased interest this year after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, and Redford said there is an attack on that liberty around the world and not just in Paris.

Recommended Stories For You

"[Paris] was a sad and shocking event, but I also think it was a wake-up call," he said. "There are films here that will upset some people and that’s OK. We will do everything in our power to keep [freedom of expression] alive here."

In order for the Sundance Film Festival to do that, the festival juries need to pay close attention to the film submissions, Cooper said.

"My job isn’t about change as much as it is about being responsive of what our artists are making," he said. "We’ve seen a rise in quality, but we’re also seeing the filmmakers’ attention to intensity and it’s not just dramatic intensity. If it’s a comedy, it’s really funny. If it’s a drama, it’s very dramatic."

In addition to the visual experiences, there are off-screen events, including the Celebration of Music in Film performance that is scheduled at the Shop Yoga Studio on Sunday, Cooper said.

Putnam also said diversity is celebrated in the festival’s various panel discussions.

"The Power of Story panel Saturday will include a great collection of women storytellers," she said. "It will be a great conversation and it’s one of the many things that will be live-streaming."

The panel will be held on Saturday, at the Egyptian Theatre and will be streamed live at .

The panel will be moderated by Emily Nussbaum and feature Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Jenji Kohan and Kristen Wiig.

"[The Sundance Institute] has spent a lot of time thinking about diversity in terms of gender representation and diversity of all types," Putnam said. "We have done research of our own with UCS (University Campus Suffolk) and have found the pipeline of young talent interested in telling stories is there, but somewhere along the way they fall out of the business equation and diversity seems to step out. So we are looking systematically at what the field can do to help with that."

One of those ways is the institute’s documentary program.

"With the program we support filmmakers from all over the world," Putnam said. "It’s top of our minds now as artists, storytellers and journalists are at risk. This is something we need to stand up for as a community."

Documentaries and Sundance go back to the early days, Redford said.

"I felt that documentaries were important because they carried with them a feeling of being in the moment and found that exciting," he said. "We always had a slough for documentaries.

"The development of the Internet and the different television channels showed so many voices claiming the truth," he said. "So, where do we have a chance to slow down and take a hard look at something to see what we feel about it? That’s why we have a documentary lab and it’s part of the growth of Sundance. As long as the core purpose stays the same, we can stay fluid."