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SUNDANCE: Robert Redford Dismisses Retirement, Defends Controversial Kevin Smith Film

Robert Redford and Keri Putnam
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Keri Putnam and Robert Redford

PARK CITY, Utah -- This tiny Utah ski town may be the focus of the independent film world for the next 10 days, but as they gathered for their annual opening-day press conference, the Sundance Film Festival brain trust emphasized their serious global aspirations.

Festival founder Robert Redford, festival director John Cooper and Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam took the stage at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street to tout Sundance's growing list of programs designed to draw attention to and foster independent cinema, both at home and around the world.

"At this point, 30% of the artists we support at our festival and our labs are international and we are really looking to continue that work and deepen it," Putnam said.

On the international front, there was talk of Film Forward, the Sundance Institute's new traveling film program that will reach global audiences by way of screenings at American embassies abroad; the recent launch of a theater lab in East Africa; and Wednesday's announcement that the Sundance Institute and Indian conglomerate Mahindra Group have struck an agreement to start a screenwriters lab in Mumbai and create a global filmmaking award that will be given at Sundance annually.

Redford and the others also focused on the ways the Sundance Institute can nurture the next generation of filmmakers, and foster the work of those on the fringes. The trio pointed to Wednesday's announcement of the Ford Foundation's $50 million JustFilms initiative, which will fund rising documentarians whose works addresses social issues. And they cited the festival's NEXT section for super-low-budget American films, now in its second year.

But it wasn't just about the filmmakers that have been nurtured by the Sundance Institute or those that are showing films at the festival. Noting that festival curators received more than 10,000 film submissions this year, Redford said he's recently been considering the question, "How can we take those films that did not get picked up that have merits, and put them out there?"

Redford didn't offer an immediate answer.

The festival has made room this year for more documentaries with the launch of the Documentary Premieres program, which includes films from well-known documentary filmmakers like Morgan Spurlock and Eugene Jarecki.

"We dug deep and talked to the documentary community; we thought there was a place for a higher level of appreciation of documentaries," Cooper said.

The press conference was not without its lighter moments, either. Redford, clad in dark blue jeans, tan boots and a green plaid shirt, was good natured when asked at one point whether he'd follow suit in the wake of two other show business luminaries in their 70s who have begun or have announced retirement: Larry King and Regis Philbin. "I think you just gave me a great idea," said Redford, drawing a chorus of laughs from the assembled press before adding that he hadn't thought about it.

He also generously praised Cooper, now in his second year as festival director. Redford lauded Cooper for his taste, humor and knowledge, before adding, "And he's only been out prison for a month."

For his part, Cooper joked: "It's so great to be in a second year and not a first year -- I am almost relaxed."

But the press conference did turn serious on the topic of politics. The trio addressed Sundance's role -- or lack thereof -- in American culture and politics in light of an anti-homosexual church's planned protest at the Sundance premiere of Kevin Smith's subversive horror film, Red State.

"Our work really tries to transcend politics in one way or another, whatever side you are on," Redford said. "We try to show stories that are about the whole country, and every part of the country, and every color of the country. Red state, blue state doesn't mean a whole lot to us."