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Film fest opens with Redford, ‘Friends with Money’

MATT JAMES Of the Record staff

As darkness fell Thursday evening, a throng of photographers and reporters waited along the red carpet at the Eccles Center. In front of the building, a crowd had gathered in hopes of finding a ticket. Another group waited to get into the theatre to see, "Friends with Money," the opening film of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Once inside, a bit after 6:30, the stars including Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr. and Sting arrived with flashbulbs popping.

After a few minutes, the lights dimmed, and Robert Redford walked out on the stage to open the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Earlier that day, few hundred reporters gathered at the Sundance House at the Kimball Art Center for a press conference. The event featured Redford, the president of the Sundance Institute, along with Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore and "Friends with Money" director Nichole Holofcener. Redford opened his remarks talking about Sundance’s silver anniversary.

"The 25th anniversary," he said, "is really the anniversary of the Sundance Institute."

There and in his remarks at the Eccles Center, Redford emphasized the difference between the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival. The heart of the Sundance Institute, he said, is in the development of filmmakers, screenwriters, playwrights and composers, and the film festival, he noted is simply one of the programs.

He went on to talk about the purpose of the film festival and what it has become.

"It’s about discovery," he said. "It’s about discovering the new filmmakers by giving them an opportunity."

Redford talked about how the film festival was designed to offer independent filmmakers a chance to find an audience and showcase their work, and how the event began with 30 films on two screens in the library and a single movie theatre, with him outside promoting the films to passers by like a carnival barker.

But at the same time, he also acknowledged what the event has become.

"While we programmed it as a festival and we still do " he said, "it became a market."

"Once it became a market" Redford added, "that’s when the outer layers of the festival developed."

But he remained ambiguous about whether he regarded those "outer layers" of the festival things like corporate rent-outs, celebrity gifting houses and mega-parties as a positive or negative influence on the festival. While they might give a corporate air to the festival, he noted, they also bring it more notoriety.

Gilmore talked about the programs and features at the 2006 festival, but only after a disclaimer. "It’s really hard to talk about the festival when you haven’t seen the films," he said.

The event, he said, would include 48 first-time filmmakers, 102 films projected digitally and 41 films shot digitally. Among the special events, he listed screenings of Gus Van Sant’s 1985 film "Mala Noche" and Wim Wenders’ 1984 feature, "Paris, Texas;" an expanded Sundance Online Film Festival, featuring numerous festival shorts; the panel discussions and seminars and the Sunday-morning Film Church.

"Each year we strive to continue to reinvent the festival on many different levels," said Sundance Institute Managing Director Jill Miller in an e-mail to The Park Record.

She noted the more thoroughly integrated Film Center (formerly the digital center) and the increase in the World Documentary Competition field from 12 to 16 films.

"In addition," Miller noted, "we’ve beefed up the second half of the festival by adding a closing film ("Alpha Dog") and moving the Music on Main Street event to the last Friday night, to be held in conjunction with the closing film."

Miller who works out of the Sundance Institute’s Salt Lake City office, gave some simple advice for festival goers, and in the end, she echoed Redford.

"Enjoy the festival," she said. "If there are films you’d like to see but can’t get a ticket to them, I highly encourage patrons to try the wait list, especially at our larger venues like the Eccles, Racquet Club and Library.

"Remember too," she added, "that this is a festival of discovery."

After the screening of "Friends with Money," which offered some insightful comedy courtesy of its four stars, Aniston, Cusack, Keener and McDormand, the Eccles Center audience streamed out into the lobby to hop the busses to Sundance’s opening night gala.

A crowd of people waited outside for the 9:45 p.m. screening. The film festival was underway, with nine days waiting.


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