Sundance Film Festival celebrates 30th anniversary

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16 2014 6:05 p.m. MST

Robert Redford, founder and president of Sundance Institute, and Keri Putnam, Sundance Institute executive director, talk to the media at the opening press conference of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford says change is inevitable.

As the 2014 festival got underway Thursday, Redford noted how the film and technology landscape has changed since the founding of the event, from smartphones and text messaging to online fundraising tools such as Kickstarter. The Sundance Institute, he said, has always looked to incorporate new methods of storytelling and to "ride with that wave."

"You have a choice," he said. "You either resist (change), or you go with it and you try to turn it into as much positive as possible."

Redford, who was recently honored by Gov. Gary Herbert for his contributions to Utah, said he was drawn to the state partly for its beauty but also for its pioneer history. He said a lot of people questioned his decision to launch a festival and workshops for independent film in Utah, but he saw it as a good fit for emerging artists to have a space to develop and share their work.

"I said, 'Let's go to Utah. Let's put it in the middle of the winter, make it weird,'" Redford said. "The state and I might have differences, political differences or otherwise, but it's a great state and it's a beautiful state."

The launch of the festival, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, coincided with the announcement of this year's Academy Award nominations.

The nominations drew criticism from many who felt Redford was overlooked for his performance in "All Is Lost." When asked about the nominations, Redford said he did not want that conversation to get in the way of the festival.

"The film that I made with (director) J.C. Chandor is a film I'm very proud of," Redford said. "It gave me the chance as an actor to go back to my roots."

"All Is Lost," which was independently produced, sees Redford in a near-wordless role as a man stranded at sea after his sailboat is damaged. Redford praised the film as a "pure cinematic experience" and said its stripped-down nature without voice-over or costly special effects was engaging as an actor.

"Would it have been wonderful to be nominated? Of course, but I’m not disturbed by it or upset by it," he said.

Success through failure

As part of the 30th anniversary, this year's festival includes the launch of a new film category in Sundance Kids, which festival director John Cooper said is intended to help introduce independent film to the next generation of audiences.

The festival is also hosting several panels and events around the theme of success through failure, including screenings of 1996's "Bottle Rocket," which was turned down by Sundance before going on to be an independent success.

Redford said the festival itself has seen its share of failures and challenges, including periods of time when its finances were on shaky footing.

"It gets harder and harder," he said. "We've certainly hit spots along the road where things looked pretty grim. We've taken risks that didn't work."

Cooper compared the festival's lean years to family finances, saying they tightened their belt and moved forward. He said the festival's enduring success has been due to a focus on providing a venue to artists to develop their work and connect storytellers with an audience.

"I remember those times, but you never lose focus of the mission," Cooper said. "That's what is going to carry you on."

Crowds converge

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