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."
Redford and Cooper's comments came during a meeting with members of the press at Park City's Egyptian Theater. Just outside, business owners, sponsors and festival staff were busily preparing locations on Main Street for the thousands of anticipated visitors that will descend on Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance Resort over the course of the 10-day festival.
Jim McFaul, of San Diego, said this is his seventh time attending the festival. He and a group of friends were making their plans Thursday for a weekend of skiing, food and film screenings.
"It's an annual trip for a huge group of friends," McFaul said. "We usually have between 50 and 100 people."
Jannicke Swing, a 20-year Park City resident, was gearing up for the increased business at Otto Parts, the clothing and souvenir store where she works. The store has two locations on Main Street, adjacent to the iconic Egyptian Theater on one end and the ASCAP Music Cafe on the other. Already Thursday morning, festivalgoers were beginning to trickle in.
"Once they get in town, they look and then they don’t buy until the end (of the festival)," she said. "It’s probably going to be just food and gum and phone chargers until then."
Swing described the week Sundance is in town as "exciting but also overwhelming." Her store, like most on Main Street, ordered extra shipments in anticipation of increased demand and is "fully stocked and ready to go," she said.
"All of last week, the whole street was full of moving vans and trucks," Swing said, "and now everything is just going to be hectic. All the buses are full. The streets are full."
Visitors to the festival will find a bustling Main Street during the opening weekend, with many of the city's stores, restaurants and galleries staying open for extended hours.
Live performers also take advantage of the foot traffic, and impromptu crowds signal the occasional celebrity sighting.
Several stars are expected to be in town promoting their films and participating in post-screening Q-and-A sessions.
Zach Braff returns to the festival with "Wish I Was Here," his directorial follow-up to "Garden State," which premiered at the 2004 festival. This year's festival also features the directorial debuts of David Cross — who plays Tobias Fünke on "Arrested Development" — and William H. Macy, with their films "Hits" and "Rudderless," respectively.
Husband and wife duo Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation" and Megan Mullally of "Will & Grace" will host this year's Sundance Awards Ceremony, held in Park City on Saturday, Jan. 25.
Films screening at the festival feature performances by Paul Rudd, Ryan Reynolds, Amy Poehler, Shailene Woodley, Nicholas Hoult, Jesse Eisenberg, Keira Knightley, Selena Gomez, Michael Fassbender, Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, among others.
While many screenings are sold out, some tickets are still available and a limited number of same-day tickets to sold-out screenings are released for purchase each morning at the festival box offices in Park City and Salt Lake City.
Film fans can also take advantage of an updated waitlist feature at this year's festival that allows access to sold-out screenings on a space-available basis.
"It allows you to check in electronically to any waitlist from the comfort of your home or wherever you are," said David Sabour, Sundance's manager of ticketing systems. "This is just one of the ways we’re looking to improve the guest experience at the festival."
Another option open to festivalgoers is the art installations and exhibits at New Frontier, a creative space at the festival open to the general public. New Frontier incorporates various forms of electronic media and in the past has featured installations by James Franco and HitRecord, the collaborative production company founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
"New Frontier is where Sundance engages storytelling that pushes the boundaries of traditional cinema and evolves at the convergence of film, art and new media technology," New Frontier curator Shari Frilot said via email. "At New Frontier, you will find filmmakers experimenting and creating new forms of cinema, artists who are using the moving image to express conceptual art, digital designers using new media technology to invent new kinds of cinematic stories, and performance artists who engage with the moving image in various ways."
This year's edition of New Frontier features exhibits that utilize virtual-reality technology for an immersive media experience. New Frontier has had several homes at Sundance over the years, including the Miners Hospital and more recently The Yard. But for 2014, the exhibit is moving to the heart of the festival action on Main Street and Heber Avenue in Park City.
"We decided to move the show back to the Main Street area," Frilot said. "We believe it was the best way to better accomplish our mission to bring film, art and digital design communities together in conversation with one another."
New Frontier is open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. A second location is at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.
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