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Sundance pays tribute to Sydney Pollack

Greg Marshall, Of the Record staff

Michelle Satter is the founding director of the feature film program of the Sundance Institute. She was also one of the first people on Earth to see the film "Tootsie," Sydney Pollack’s now classic story of gender bending in which a struggling actor transforms himself into a middle-aged female soap opera star.

Satter saw a rough cut of the movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange in a studio in Burbank in 1981. It was the first time Pollack, who directed and co-stars in the film, had shown it to an audience.

He spent the entire screening pacing outside the theater.

"He wasn’t sure how it would play," Satter remembered.

The film went on to earn 10 Academy Awards nominations in 1982, including a nod for Pollack’s direction, and, years later, landed on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.

"Sydney loved actors," Satter sighed. "He was passionate and embraced the process. He believed that filmmakers learned by doing. It was about the process, not just the results."

The Sundance Institute is honoring Pollack’s panache with a slide-show before the screening of "Tootsie," which plays in City Park Friday as part of the Sundance Outdoor Film Festival. Pollack died in May at the age of 73.

During his lifetime, Pollack directed more than 21 films and 10 television shows. He is best known for his work on "Tootsie," "Out of Africa" and "Absence of Malice." In more recent years Pollack produced "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999), "The Quiet American" (2002) and "Cold Mountain" (2003).

Pollack’s last project as a director was 2005’s "The Interpreter," starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman.

Perhaps lesser known is Pollack’s flair for teaching. The Academy-Award winning producer, director and actor signed on to teach at the Sundance Director’s Lab in its charter year, 1981, near the time he shot "Tootsie" and quickly emerged as a key advisor for shaping the filmmaking initiatives that continue today.

"He and Robert Redford and Frank Daniel set up a methodology," said Scatter, who was also one of the pioneers of the Sundance Institute who worked closely with Pollack. "His involvement in the planning process in the first five years of the labs was important. He was really good at bringing what he learned to enhance the tools and skills of emerging filmmakers."

Students admired Pollack’s active approach to making movies, Satter said, because he believed actors learned, and improved, with practice. "I remember he said acting is doing," Satter said. "It’s an active verb."

Pollack got his start on the stage and only later transitioned to directing. His versatility as a performer contributed to his legacy at Sundance, Satter said. "The film ["Tootsie"] had real depth. The characters were fully realized."

Pollack plays a talent agent opposite Dustin Hoffman’s busty, southern starlet.

Irene Cho, another representative of the Sundance Institute, said she will read a tribute to Pollack before the 9 p.m. start of "Tootsie" in Park City. The series, called Six Degrees of Sundance, shows how classic films connect to the Sundance Film Festival.

According to Cho, The series has attracted a record-number of viewers at its three screening locations at the Sundance Resort, the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City and Park City.

"Tootsie" starts at 9 p.m. in City Park. The event is free and open to the public.


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