Festival director, founder, cite evolution as paramount
Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore and Sundance Institute Founder Robert Redford christened this year’s festival with an eye toward change in film, in politics and in the festival itself.
"In the 17 years that I’ve been director of this festival, every single year there’s been a sense of change, a sense of evolution, and I’m really excited this year," Gilmore began. "There’s a sense of maturity and change in independent film that has really taken a risk in self expression."
Among the changes to this year’s festival, Gilmore listed the New Frontier arena for video artists which opened at 333 Main Street Thursday as well as the broadened access to the festival online, including the shorts program on both the Website, festival.sundance.org, and the downloadable shorts featured on iTunes.
Joining Gilford amidst the flicker of press cameras, Redford reflected on the impact success has had on the festival.
"We had no idea that when this started it was going to work out," he admitted at the press conference. "It was never intended to be commercial. It was intended to be a place of discovery Once we had a platform we had the opportunity to expand our mission."
Despite the tiers of fashion and sponsors and film distributors the festival attracts these days, Redford underscored the festival’s commitment to its beginnings as a festival focused on film.
"At every festival it’s always ‘what’s the buzz?’ Well, you’re not going to know what the buzz is until it’s over," he said. "In our mind, we program Sundance like a festival and not a market."
Redford said part of his vision for the festival has always been to widen the audience for documentaries beyond the academic realm. This year’s opening film, "Chicago 10," a film documenting the events and conspiracy trial surrounding 1968’s Democratic National Convention, fulfilled many of the goals he envisioned the genre could achieve.
"I honestly always believed that documentaries would reach a place equal to narrative film and I wanted us to be at the vanguard of that," he said. "By opening with ‘Chicago 10’ we are really making a statement about that."
Redford recalled growing up in Los Angeles during World War II watching newsreels and shorts, and said that he borrows heavily from documentary filmmaking when he directs. He sees documentaries as an instrument to bring about social change "a kind of truth to power," he said.
"Chicago 10" director Brett Morgan also spoke about the activism he hopes to engender through filmmaking.
"I tried first and foremost to make something that was entertaining, because if it’s not entertaining, people won’t see it and the message will get lost," he said.
"If you look at the latest polls, 70 percent of America doesn’t support a war in Iraq, but if you look down the street, you don’t see that. The idea was to show people what it means to take a stand."
Morgan describes his film, which intersperses animation and archived footage from the demonstrations, as a hybrid one-part narrative, one-part documentary. He says unlike documentaries typical of school classrooms, he avoided often-didactic "talking heads," and used youthful language to appeal to a younger generation.
Since his previous documentary "On The Ropes," premiered at the festival in 1999, Morgan explained he felt strongly that his career had been launched at Sundance and that he had found a community at the festival.
"In the 1990s in L.A., documentary filmmakers were second-class citizens," he recalled. "At Sundance, there’s very little separation between documentaries and narrative films I can’t think of a better time or place than right here to premiere [‘Chicago 10’]."
Morgan noted his film is only the second documentary to open the festival since "Riding Giants" in 2004 and that he looks forward to seeing more documentaries open Sundance in the future.
But he acknowledged evolution doesn’t happen overnight. Nodding to Gilmore and Redford, he said, "I think the reason documentaries have penetrated the marketplace is because of these two gentlemen."
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