Robert Redford Kicks Off Sundance 2012: A Festival for 'Dark and Grim' Times

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PARK CITY – The mood was alternatively light and dark inside the Egyptian Theater this afternoon as Sundance founder Robert Redford, Institute executive director Keri Putnam and festival programmer John Cooper kicked off the indie film fest with its usual news conference for a 100 or so journalists from around the globe.

Redford, who walked out wearing a black ski cap and puffy vest, cracked up the crowd when he introduced Cooper as “my driver” but segued very quickly into a more serious tone when offering a primer to this year’s program.

“We can start with the hard times we’re living in.— it’s no secret, times are dark and grim,” said Redford. “In addition, we’re suffering from a government in paralysis. That makes it all a pretty grim time. But the happy thing is that here, for this week, we’re going to see work from artists, even though their work might be reflective of these hard times, there is not paralysis here.”

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Redford also offered a Sundance 101 of sorts; clarifying the difference between Park City “and the place called Sundance.” There has been some confusion, he said, about the difference between the two. “Just so people are clear, Sundance is not Park City,” Redford clarified, his tone reflective of the decades-old grousing that the festival, which runs Jan. 19-29, has become too much of a spectacle.

“Sundance as a place is where it all started in 1980 when I started the labs," he said. "The labs are basically where work is developed. Because the festival gets so much attention, that’s what people think Sundance is. It’s only a part of what Sundance is. In my mind, the meaningful part is where our labs are.”

Putnam, entering her second festival as head of the nonprofit Sundance Institute, offered a lighter take on things, saying that kicking off the 10-day festival is one of her “favorite moments of the year.” She said she’s been embroiled in tackling three main priorities as the organization’s chief executive: addressing the challenges of film distribution -- including those artists who opt for a “self-distribution” model --  globalization and technology.

Putnam also announced the Institute’s latest move to increase its global reach: A four-day music and film festival in late April in collaboration with Sundance London and AEG. “Today, 30 percent of our artists are international,” said Putnam, adding that Sundance also has undertaken a “traveling” fest of sorts, with 10 filmmakers trotting the globe and “reaching thousands.”

Cooper capped off the chat with the admission that he “sits in a privileged position” of having seen all of this year’s films at the festival, and he added that he was particularly heartened to see such an abundance of comedies, including many written by and starring women. “I’m not really sure why that happened, but bring it on!” said Cooper.

Email: Stacey.Wilson@thr.com

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