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Sundance 2010: Festival says it wants to change

January 21, 2010 |  5:50 pm


Sundance Film Festival organizers pulled a Domino's Pizza on Thursday afternoon, saying that they'd failed in some respects over the last few years and vowing to improve.

Festival founder Robert Redford took the stage at the festival's opening news conference and offered a notable, if somewhat general, mea culpa. "I felt we were sliding. We were beginning to flat line and we needed a fresh approach." Redford didn't elaborate on what specifically he felt was needed, but the news conference went on to cover everything from John Cooper taking over as festival director to Sundance's increased emphasis this year on micro-budgeted films.

The annual press conference, at the Egyptian Theater on Main Street, is usually more a place of generalities than controversies. But it can offer hints about the direction of the festival, and organizers this year suggested they wanted to plunge into the future by returning to what they've done well in the past. Redford, citing a T.S. Eliot poem that one should "return to the place we first started but see it for the first time," put a finer point on it. "We're going back to our roots with fresh new voices."

To the extent that means first-time filmmakers, the festival is delivering on its promise, although it's worth noting that a number of big stars and Sundance mainstays -- many of whom are bigger stars than when they first started coming here, and include personalities such as Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman -- also will be very much in evidence in Park City (along with straight-up A-listers such as Kristen Stewart, Natalie Portman and Jessica Alba).

Theater In addition to the low-budget films, the festival also will be offering a healthy dose of street cred. A Banksy documentary will be making its debut on Sunday, while Leon Gast's documentary about early-days paparazzo Ron Galella, "Smash His Camera" (mention of which evoked an entertaining digression from Redford on the time the actor eluded him on the New York set of "Three Days of the Condor"), also plays the festival.

And controversy was likely to follow Reed Cowan's Mormon church documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition." Redford said he was not necessarily expecting protests from Mormon groups for the documentary, which is thought to be critical of the Mormon church, but was ready for it just the same. "Last year [after the passage of Proposition 8, a cause in which the Mormon Church was active] we were getting accusations that were flat-out ridiculous," he said. "We'll have the same attitude as we did last year: The festival doesn't take sides politically."

Conf In talking about the new direction, Redford acknowledged Cooper predecessor Geoff Gilmore with a series of compliments that nonetheless also validated their decision to part ways. "Geoff did an amazing job," he said. "He's passionate and extremely articulate and a great lover of film. But it was simply a time for fresh new blood. You have to rejuvenate," he said, adding, that such a decision "just happened to coincide with Geoff's need to move on."

With Cooper making his debut as festival director, the news conference wandered into themes that have recurred over the last few months, particularly the creation of the low-budget Next section. "We've been showing these kinds of films for years, but we thought it was time to carve out a section for it," he said.

As he laid out the new plans, however, Cooper also offered his own admission. "There's a schizophrenia to talk about the old and new when I was here all these years," he said. "If there were problems with the festival I was probably part of them."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photos, from top: Robert Redford at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah; Redford in sunglasses, with designer Kenneth Cole, who's looking at Redford, and volunteers outside the theater; John Cooper and Redford. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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Evolution is a part of any movement that stands the test of time.

No Sundance coverage is complete w/o a shout out for an innovative movie called, 'Me Too (Yo Tambien)'; I am not a paid endorser of this film or part of the production but I do want to get the word out and it fits in with this idea of bringing Sundance back to it's roots, one film at a time.

"He's smart. He's a college graduate. He's employed. And he was born with an extra 21st chromosome. Daniel has Down Syndrome and is one of the main characters of the film 'Me too (Yo Tambien)', scheduled for screening at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 21st-31st."

its good to have mr. redford re thinking this festival and hopefuly getting back to ground level on what the mission was in the first place.

The need to throw more support behind low budget, beginning film makers is greater than ever, not only because the art form needs fresh blood (and fresh air), but because we need forms of cultural expression that renew our appreciation of beauty, restore our sense of hope, and revive our belief in the possibility of redemption. Look at the world! People are desperate for meaning, for a MYTHOS that reveals a map of the soul's quest and offers an example of how best to navigate it. That's what good storytelling actually does. While religion has gone corporate, myth remains bound to its roots in Truth. At their best, theatre and film wield the power of myth; at their worst they are nothing but cheesy tools serving shallow corporate interests. Very few big budget films will ever achieve this, because you cannot achieve it without taking a risk. The bigger the myth and the truer you are to its heart, the bigger the risk will be. It's the projects driven by heart (not bureaucrats or accountants) that are most likely to achieve this.

I've seen this this act before .Namely ,the slick Aspen/Goldie Hawn clones descending on the unsophisticated (sans intellectual prop. counsel)filmaker/writer to rob ,cheat & bugger.


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