Sundance, Robert Redford’s indie festival which kicks off today in Park City UT, celebrates it 30-year anniversary this year and several special events are planned to commemorate three decades in the service of independent cinema. One event that apparently had not been planned was to have the traditional opening-day press conference fall only a few hours after the Academy’s failure to include Redford among this year’s nominees for Best Actor. His amazing solo performance in All Is Lost had earned him a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe nomination and numerous other accolades, but it somehow was overlooked by Academy voters in one of the year’s most notable snubs.
In front of a house packed with press at Park City’s Egyptian theater Mr. Redford the festival director began his remarks by addressing the news fresh out of Hollywood – and he didn’t mince words. “Why don’t we let the audience speak for me?” said the veteran actor and director as the audience booed the exclusion. “We suffered from little to no distribution. I don’t know why, whether it was because they didn’t want to spend any money, if they were afraid or just incapable. I don't’ know but we lacked a campaign to cross over into the mainstream.” Redford continued in an apparent jab and distributor Lionsgate. “Hollywood is a business, and a very good one. I have nothing but respect for that have always been part of it and I am happy about it. But it’s a business so when it comes to being voted it can get very political – but that’s ok because its’ a business.” “Would it have been wonderful to be nominated?” He concluded. “Of course. But I’m not disturbed about it or upset about it because of what I just said – it is a business and we just couldn’t conform to that […] it stood a chance of crossing over if it had more distribution.”
With that Redford presented this anniversary edition of the indie festival that has grown into one of the world’s leading film showcases recalling how it started as a “weird” event, not in Los Angeles or New York, but in the snowy Wasatch Mountains in a purposeful effort to make it “strange for people to get to and maybe that will [turn into] something”. “It was a place to put this new concept of independent film which I never saw as an ‘other’ to Hollywood, I never saw as a counterpoint to Hollywood as much as an add-on”.
The rest, as they say, is of course history and from this edition of Sundance will offer 121 features from 37 countries of which 100 are world-premieres, from astonishing field of 12218 submissions. Sundance remains one of the world’s most important showcases and one that has produced dozens of world-class directors (Alfonso Cuarón, David O Russell and Alexander Payne, just to name a few of the ones involved in this year’s awards season.) “They have all come through our labs and our festival”, mused Redford, “we introduced them as independent authors and now they have crossed over. So over 30 years, if you look at all the people that are now working and saw how many came though with our help, to me that’s more satisfying than anything. When I see that I think ‘we’ve done something right, and good”.