At a subdued press conference at London’s O2 arena this morning, Robert Redford helped launch the second edition of Sundance London (April 25-28).

Redford struck a self-effacing note about the reasons for setting up the festival and made only modest claims about what the first edition (this time last year) achieved.

“We came because we were invited,” the Sundance founder said. “We thought that rather than come in in a big way, it would be wiser and more practical to come in in a smaller way…it was kind of like a toe in the water experiment.”

Redford claimed the inaugural event, which combines music with film, went well. He spoke of the opportunity the festival gives to “new voices” from US cinema “for their work to be seen outside the United States.”

Sitting alongside him, John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, was likewise cautiously upbeat about the first Sundance London.

Cooper pointed to reactions from the audiences, the enthusiastic response from filmmakers and the opportunity to help Sundance movies “travel outside of America.”

The Company You Keep

Redford used the London platform to tub thump on behalf of his new political thriller, The Company You Keep, set against the backcloth of the Weather Underground anti-Vietnam war protests and due to be released later this year. Redford directed the film and stars alongside Shia Le Boeuf, Julie Christie and Susan Sarandon.

“Over time, there has always been some movement where the public has a voice they want to be heard and usually it gets snuffed out,” Redford reflected.

“The Weather Underground tried to create havoc around the Vietnam war in the hope they could stop it. When that didn’t work, they turned to violence. That’s usually the beginning of the end, when a movement turns to violence.”

The Sundance boss went on to refer to the value of “film (at Sundance) as a cultural exchange,” giving audiences an insight into other nations and cultures.

Film business unhealthy

Redford said that the “state of the film business in general” wasn’t “particularly healthy.”

One sector he believes is booming, though, is documentary, a form which is increasingly foregrounded by Sundance.

Documentaries, Redford said, have been “pushed forward” by the festival and now “occupy pretty much the same space that (dramatic) films do.”

Political dig

Asked about the pressure put on arts organisations by public funders in the UK to justify themselves in economic terms, Redford noted that “when you have an extremely conservative political body that seems threatened by film and sees art as threatening, then the argument comes up that it (the art) is a trivial pursuit.”

Californian supergroup The Eagles are due at Sundance London tomorrow [Apr 25]. They won’t perform but will give a Q&A after the international premiere of Alison Ellwood’s History Of The Eagles Part One.

Other special events alongside the movies themselves include a live performance from artist and electronic musician Peaches, a performance from Gregg Allman and John Paul White following the screening of Muscle Shoals and a live performance from British Sea Power.