Sundance 2018 officially got underway with that time-honored ritual: the opening day press conference with founder and figurehead Robert Redford was joined on stage by Sundance Festival programmer John Cooper and Sundance Institute director Keri Putnam.
Some of the proceedings were familiar to anyone who has trekked up Heber Pass to attend the festival before. Redford recalled the festival’s origins as a bastion of independent filmmaking, not necessarily in opposition to mainstream Hollywood fare but complementary to. The original intent of opening a space, as Redford once again reminded everyone, to free and unfettered artistic expression through film. Redford revisited the festival’s growth from the days in which the Egyptian was its only venue (that’s ancient history from the vantage point of today’s confab with its 16 theater venues, 897 total screenings of films and tens of thousands of attendees).
But it was perhaps inevitable that the forces roiling the industry would become part of this year's festival as well, starting with the Time’s Up movement and the current soul-searching about the treatment of women. “I think change is inevitable,” said Redford addressing the issue. “And change is going to happen and sometimes it's going to be positive, sometimes less. I’m pretty encouraged right now as this period of change is creating forth more opportunities for women and more opportunities for women to have their voice heard and do their own projects. It’s kind of a turning point.”
“For women to be able to step forward and exercise their voice more and more is a wonderful thing and I think that the role for men right now would be to listen and to let the women’s’ voices be heard and think about it and then maybe discuss it and discuss it amongst themselves. It’s a time of change which I think can lead to a new conversation. At least I’m hopeful.”
“To me, the movement and the conversation that it has been generating has been incredibly moving,” added Putnam, “and I do think it’s about more than a few individual men I think it's about the underlying systems of power.”
“At Sundance, we are very lucky because we do work with a lot of under-represented minorities and women filmmakers.” The Sundance Institute devotes special programs to women filmmakers and offers annual fellowships to women (supported in part by the HFPA). This year some of the talks at the festival will deal specifically with women’s issues in filmmaking, including the Women Breaking Barriers panel organized jointly with the HFPA.
Sundance has always championed film as an essential tool for truth-finding, for emotionally framing societal issues and effecting change as John Cooper elaborated. That obviously begs the question of filmmaking in the age of post-truth and fake news, in other words in the age of Trump, when facts and journalism have been singled out as the “opposition party.”
“I’m a huge fan of journalism, which is born out by some of the projects I’ve done, so journalism is a big deal for me,” said Redford who played Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men. He was asked about the Nixon administration’s own conflict with journalists and parallels with current events. “It always seems to be under threat periodically: something comes up and it dies down and it comes up and then it dies down…because journalism is our means of getting to the truth and getting to the truth is getting harder and harder in this climate when you have so many stories being told by so many sources
The democratic part of journalism out there is under threat because of all the voice out there and many of them are hostile, many of them trying to create a diverse universe and it makes it hard for the public to discern what’s going on. So I think it is our role at the festival to promote journalism that really works hard to get to the truth against the odds.”
Redford stressed the affinity between journalism, documentary film, and fiction: all storytelling which seeks to uncover a deeper truth and is ultimately essential to promote democracy.