80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter
Getting an indIe film made has always been an uphill struggle, but at least there’s the downhill skiing at Sundance to enjoy. This wasn’t always the case, however. In 1969, avid skier Robert Redford, then in his early 30s, bought a resort near Provo, Utah — now home of the Sundance Institute — with earnings from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer. Nine years later, the tiny Utah/US Film Festival, forerunner of the Sundance fest, launched with little fanfare, and skiing wasn’t part of the mix — it was held in Salt Lake City in the summer. Redford was the inaugural chairman; his connection was with in-law and key founding player Sterling Van Wagenen.
The skiing arrived when festival board member Sydney Pollack suggested moving the event to Park City, 45 minutes away. Pollack thought a ski-resort locale would set the experience apart and draw industry execs looking for a working vacation. It didn’t hurt that organizers were able to offer attendees free rooms at the Pinnacle condominium complex, which was hit hard by the early-1980s real estate slump and looking to draw wealthy potential buyers. The idea worked well for the fest, less so for the condos. “We skied all day and watched films at night,” Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard says. “Little did they know it was the independent-film community showing up and they didn’t have a nickel in their pockets.”