What do T.S. Eliot and Paris Hilton have in common? Robert Redford invoked both today at a press conference that officially kicked off the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, which runs Jan. 21-30 here in Park City, Utah.
“With this year’s festival, I’m reminded that there’s a poem that I’m always fond of by T.S. Eliot,” said Redford, Sundance’s founder, before launching into Eliot’s “Little Giddings”: “We will not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started.” “We’re going back to our roots with fresh new ideas and fresh new voices and that’s really the thrust of our festival this year," Redford told reporters gathered at the Egyptian Theater on Main Street, the site of the first Sundance Film Festival in 1981.
To that end, Redford and Sundance director John Cooper, who took over that role from longtime director Geoff Gilmore earlier this year, touted a return to low-budget pictures and documentaries from all over the globe. “World cinema has been high on our list,” Cooper said. “We have 41 countries represented. Estonia and Greenland were never at the festival before.”
As far as how the more than 100 films screened here are selected, Cooper joked, “It turns into a big blood bath of arguments,” between him and the other programmers. “We know each other very well and how to judge each other’s passions.” (For a list of movies the Hitfix staff is passionate about, see here).
Redford, who had a cast on his right arm, has always had a soft spot for documentaries, but he said their importance continues to grow. “By expanding the venue for documentaries to be seen, you can move into areas vacated by the news media. Where are people going to get the truth? It’s starting to get confusing with the bloggers and the yada, yada, yada. We bring in documentaries from other countries where filmmakers risk their lives. There’s a truth that’s verifiable. Our commitment [going forward] will be to look to how we can create opportunities for them."
As Sundance approaches its 30th birthday, Redford confessed that he never expected the festival to survive past 10 years. As events age, “people get afraid of taking chances,” he said. “I assumed we wouldn’t last more than 10 years. When we cease to provide a benefit to independent filmmakers we shouldn’t stick around, but as long as we [could], we should keep going.” He added that he takes the festival’s temperature every year and that over the last few years, he’d felt, “we were sliding,” in part due to the hijacking of the festival by “ambush marketers who took over Main Street and the houses in the mountains, at three or four times [the normal price] to hand out their swag. You end up with Paris Hilton here who had nothing to do with us.” Redford has trotted out Hilton as the poster child of the over commercialization of Sundance by brand names hoping to capitalize on Sundance’s reputation. “There’s nothing we do about that, but it kind of engulfed what we did. Now with the economy, these people can’t come back or I hope they don’t come.”
Among this year’s slate of films is “8: The Mormon Proposition,” a documentary by Reed Cowan, a former Mormon missionary, about the Mormons’ fight against gay rights including the Church’s involvement in the passage of California’s Prop 8. Clearly, in Utah, this movie has raised a ruckus, but Redford denied any political leanings by the festival. “It’s up to the audience to decide about it. The criteria is is the work interesting?…we don’t take a side politically. I may personally, but not the festival.”
The Prop 8 controversy arose last year surrounding public screenings at the Holiday Theaters 1-3 local multiplex here because the owners contributed to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign, causing many political activists to ask the festival to disassociate the festival from the multiplex, which the festival declined to do. This year, there are no public screenings at the Holiday, although the festival continues to use it for press and industry screenings this year.
On a lighter note, also showing this year is “Smash His Camera,” a documentary about Ron Galella, the first true paparazzo. Redford was asked about that selection since he and Galella had a 30-year relationship of the cameraman chasing the elusive star. Redford responded with a long, winding story about how he pulled a fast one when Galella tried to shoot him while Redford was filming “Three Days of the Condor.” Redford hasn’t seen “Smash His Camera.”
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