Redford lands left hook, criticizes Bush policy


PARK CITY -- Robert Redford came out swinging at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival's opening news conference Thursday, attacking the Bush administration for its politics as strongly as he dismissed film buyers who want his fest to serve as a market.

"Anyone with a rational mind and a sense of decency is being positioned as a lefty by the extreme right," he said, responding to an attendee who asked whether he thought Sundance selections were politically oriented to the left. "I believe in the tenets of democracy, and when they get pushed, it pisses me off," he said.

Redford maintained that Sundance films always have been politically diverse but said that "in light of what's happened in the past six years, we haven't adhered to snuffing attempts from the administration. ... (Documentaries) have become more of a truth to power in an environment where lying is treated like a political asset."

"I'm left-handed," he joked. "I'm not a very moderate person."

Redford's remarks were in sharp contrast to his mild-mannered opening-day appearance last year, but politics are now very much on his mind. He was accompanied by festival director Geoffrey Gilmore and film director Brett Morgen as they introduced this year's opening-night film, Morgen's Vietnam War-era documentary "Chicago 10."

Redford was in town for only a day before heading off to work on "Lions for Lambs," which he will direct and star in as a professor with two students in the war in Afghanistan. The politically themed omnibus film, featuring Tom Cruise as a U.S. senator and Meryl Streep as an investigative journalist, is the first project for the new Cruise- and Paula Wagner-run United Artists.

Redford also offered tough talk about the commercialization surrounding Sundance, which reached new heights last year with the $10.5 million sale of "Little Miss Sunshine" to Fox Searchlight. "We program it like a film festival and not a market," Redford said sternly. "Buyers are continuously asking, 'What's this? What's that? Is there going to be a breakout hit?' which I don't really care about."

He derided the "buzz" factor on certain films, noting that "there's been buzz about stuff that's tanked."

Redford began the conference speaking in his characteristically laid-back style, ruminating on how far the fest had come since its start at Park City's Egyptian Theatre, where the news conference took place.

He reminisced about the World War II newsreels of his childhood that led to his interest in documentaries. His anger seemed to build steam, however, as he quietly mentioned family and friends whose lives were affected by what was shown in the newsreels. He also lamented the "greed factor" that has led most theater owners to abandon shorts.

He said his interest in nonfiction led him to incorporate a docu style to the early films he had a hand in producing, such as "Downhill Racer" and "The Candidate." In creating Sundance, he also chose to highlight documentaries.

"Chicago 10," which combines archival footage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention protesters with animated re-enactments and voice-overs, speaks to Redford's interest in docus and politics. "You're going to see what went wrong with the movement as well as what went right," he said. "We're moving in a similar place today, except there's no draft."

Emphasizing the fest's theme, "Focus on Film" -- buttons with the slogan were passed around -- Redford and Gilmore also spoke of the fest's more international slate and the opening of New Frontier on Main, a venue for what Gilmore described as "a nexus (that) the art world, film world and new technology will create."