Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford cut an almost outsider figure at the 2019 opening press conference on Thursday (24) as he said he wanted to spend less time introducing the event and more time with filmmakers.
“Having done this for – god, it’s 34 years now – since the festival started, I think we’re at a point where I can move to a different place,” said Redford, who stood alone on stage at The Egyptian and had begun by acknowledging the “vital role” of the press in giving visibility to the festival.
“Because the thing I’ve missed over the years is being able to spend time with the films and with the filmmakers and to see their work and enjoy their work and be part of their community. I’ve been sort of spending a lot of time introducing everything, but I don’t think the festival needs a whole lot of introduction now; it kinds of run on its own course and I’m happy for that.”
Redford then paid fulsome praise to the unpaid volunteers before welcoming Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam to the stage, and shuffling off early with a muttered “Goodbye”.
Putnam noted that the festival has become a home to independent artists around the world “as Bob always envisioned”, adding that the record 14,200 submissions showed Sundance was thriving.
“We see Sundance as a public square for independent voices,” said Putnam, adding: “We recognise this public square is in short supply. The consolidation of commercial media, the click optimisation of the digital landscape –that means stories, content and information are being distributed with an eye on views and clicks rather than depth and risk. It’s commerce, not purpose, which is driving most storytelling, which of course is fine as far as it goes, but it’s dangererous when there’s few alternatives.
“This leads to the most shallow and senstional content being prioritised. The commercial media environment devalues independent media and we’re here to revalue it. We feel the urgency of coming together in person, showing up with curious, open minds, stimulated by an exchange coming from art and ideas from many perspectives that reflect our world today.”
Putnam continued: “The streaming and the independent acquisitions markets are always going to be a story and they may rise and fall. But the role of the festival for us is about something bigger: it’s about art, it’s about culture, it’s about community, and how artists are going to lead us to places that we might not otherwise go.”
She noted that diversity among Sundance filmmakers did not always correspond to diversity among credentialled press, who have until now largely been white and male, influencing the conversation around the festival and its films. Putnam then said, ”I’m proud to announce that 63 percent of the credentialed press are from underrepresented groups this year.”
Then John Cooper, new director of programming Kim Yutani, and the senior programmers took to the floor to discuss this year’s selection.
However the abiding memory of Thursday’s press conference will be of Redford, who last year teased that The Old Man & The Gun might be his final acting role. His comments on Thursday will have everyone asking whether he is also calling time on his public role at the festival and institute he founded decades ago.