Sundance founder says London event a chance to grow audiences for independent films at press conference on opening day

The first Sundance London Film and Music Festival (April 26-29) opened on Thursday with a press conference in the AEG 02 Arena Cineworld in North Greenwich, at which the star turn was Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford.

In a cinema full of camera crews Redford addressed questions on a wide range of subjects, including why Sundance has come to the vast, hangar-like 02 Arena to his opinions on the Leveson Inquiry and David Cameron, his admiration for Prince Charles and the general state of US independent cinema.

The 75-year-old movie star, film-maker and environmentalist chided British Prime Minister David Cameron for his controversial call earlier this year for “more commercially successful films”.

“That may be why he (Cameron) is in trouble,” Redford joked. “That’s a narrow view and doesn’t speak to the broad category of film-makers and artists.”

Redford described the London event as a chance for Sundance to continue its move to “grow audiences” for independent films.

Around 22 American films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival are screening at this year’s event. There are also special events and concerts.

Tonight, Redford, T Bone Burnett, psychedelic pop band Guillemots and Academy Award-winning musician/actor Glen Hansard will be taking part in an opening event chaired by novelist Nick Hornby.

Asked about the Leveson Inquiry into the British press, which this week has seen media tycoon Rupert Murdoch giving evidence, Redford said he had “been very impressed by the dignity and elegance of the way the process has gone forward…in my country, things have become so accelerated and hyped up that you can hardly follow. There is so much personality put into how the press expresses itself. It has gotten to be like a lot of noise and not as much substance.” 

Redford, who played Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men, suggested that “journalism has declined because of the role of entertainment…which has gotten too excessive”.

The star also revealed that he had met with Prince Charles “last spring” to discuss how the theme of environmentalism could be worked into the London festival. He spoke of his admiration for the Prince’s commitment “to sustainability and environmental conservation.”

Prince Charles is due at the 02 on April 28 to introduce the world premiere of Harmony, a documentary by filmmakers Stuart Sender and Julie Bergman Sender looking at the Prince’s environmental activities over the last 30 years.

Redford called on the US government to invest more in the arts, referring to the “narrow-minded, right-wing elements in our political system…afraid of change…who see art as an agent of change. ..We [in the US] don’t have the subsidies that other countries have…and I think it’s a tragedy.”

Asked whether Sundance was in “danger of losing its soul a little bit,” Redford responded that this was an issue that had always preoccupied him. “Success has a dangerous side to it, something I’ve been aware of my whole life and something that you don’t embrace so much as shadow box with.” Sundance, he pointed out, started out in a “grass roots” way and was determined to preserve its identity.

Quizzed about technology and cinema, Redford admitted he “was not a particular fan of 3D at the moment” and suggested that “technology had probably gone a little too far, too fast”.

Repeatedly throughout the press conference, Redford trumpeted the central part that the labs play at Sundance. He also floated the possibility that a Sundance Lab might in the future be held in London.

“The lab programmes at Sundance had gone international in many, many countries. The question was whether we could take the full bloom of what the labs were about to another country,” Redford said when explaining the decision to decamp from Park City, Utah, to East London for four days. “I was reluctant to see us go out till the time was ready. It felt like it was and that we could take a scaled down version of what we do in the mountains of Utah in January to another country on invitation.”