Redford weighs price of Sundance Film Festival’s success |

Redford weighs price of Sundance Film Festival’s success

by Nan Chalat Noaker, The Park Record

Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford reflects on the event s 27 year history as the 2013 version begins. Photo by Grayson West/Park Record

Those who long for the days when the Sundance Film Festival was a small upstart are not alone. Festival founder Robert Redford admits that he misses those days too.

During a roundtable interview at the Kimball Art Center at the beginning of the 10-day festival, he said, "It is not as much fun. I am not going to turn a cold shoulder to success by any means, but in terms of the joy, there is something really exciting about a startup. The odds are against you and you are fighting to make something happen. It is kind of guerilla. You are in the trenches, and I like that feeling."

Under the Sundance Institute’s banner, the festival has grown in size and reputation, which Redford describes as a mixed blessing. In the late 1980s, he said, they wondered whether the festival would survive. "We thought, maybe if we’re lucky someone else will come, but I didn’t know." the 1990s, though, word of the festival was spreading around the world and that success has brought some unexpected challenges.

Redford remembers, "If you had been here six, seven, or eight years ago you would have seen we were besieged by ambush marketers. Fashion houses, retail outlets would come in and they would take over places on Main Street and pay three times the rent to have the space. Then they would bring their product in, then they would bring celebrities in and so the whole festival began to expand. It was like trying to capture a wild horse nothing had changed in what we did and how we did it, but it was being overwhelmed by all the tiers that were being formed around its success. Then the recession hit. Those people went away and we were able to retain our focus."

But the event, which is now considered one of the top three film festivals in the world, is still faced with trying to maintain its identity amid growing demands. According to Redford, the festival is "bursting at the seams" in Park City.

"We are right on the edge of what we can handle. We are even having to go into Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake to show some of the films because there is no more space for us. I don’t know how much we could expand."

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For the moment, though, Redford said Park City is a good fit for the festival. "What works for us is to be able to have the infrastructure of Park City to create as much space for as many films as possible." And, he added, the festival has been good for Park City too.

"It has to be a two-way street. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. Notoriously (January) was a down time — between Christmas and the Presidents holiday. The revenue dropped and we come into town and we boost the retail, we boost food and beverage. We drop $80 million into the local economy in 10 days. That is phenomenal. The only people that get pissed off are the skiers and I am sympathetic to that."

As to whether the festival will remain in Park City for the long term, Redford said, "I can’t promise that I would just hope we could keep going. Let’s just leave it at that."