Redford: Sundance going back to its roots

Founder says festival had been 'sliding' in recent years

PARK CITY -- "We're going back to our roots."

That's the message that Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford and new festival director John Cooper attempted to hammer home during Thursday's opening news conference. Journalists had gathered at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street to get a sense of just how the fest is adapting in the wake of longtime director Geoffrey Gilmore's departure and shifts in the indie marketplace.

Redford admitted that in recent years, his annual fest assessment of "How are we doing? Are we staying in front of things?" was returning answers he wasn't completely happy with.

"I felt we were sliding," he said, "and we needed to get fresh again."

So with new initiatives such as the NEXT section for super-low-budget American films and a simultaneous, eight-film, eight-city mini-festival, Sundance strategists are attempting to re-widen the gap between the films they choose to showcase and the vagaries of the money-driven market.

Cooper and Redford also discussed how the Internet and VOD have changed the festival as traditional marketing and distribution costs have mushroomed.

"I think the future is in (new forms of distribution)," Redford said, noting that Sundance is in a unique position to help define that new space.

Dressed in teal shirt, jeans and boots, Redford was in good spirits, though his right wrist was wrapped in some kind of brace. In his answers, he stayed true to form in extolling the power and resiliency of independent film.

"Art can play a role in social change," Redford said.

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He cited growing benefits from the fest's outreach for documentary filmmakers, particularly from abroad, and lamented support by traditional media of doc programming.

"Where are people going to get the truth?" Redford asked.

In the future, "the public will start looking more to documentaries" such as the Khmer Rouge expose "Enemies of the People," the gay-rights doc "8: The Mormon Proposition" and the investigation of war capitalism "The Shock Doctrine" as well as past entries "An Inconvenient Truth" and "The Cove."

Less freighted with social agenda is the nonfiction "Smash His Camera." The film documents the audacious intrusions of infamous paparazzi photog Ron Galella, who harassed Redford personally for 30 years.

"How much time do you want to take with this?" Redford joked with a sigh.

He hadn't yet seen the film, Redford added. He described car chases and the elaborate disguises he concocted to avoid Galella over the years, including particularly painstaking efforts on the New York set of "Three Days of the Condor."

Despite continuing dire warnings for the future of indie film, Cooper and Redford said recent struggles are just another bump in an uneven but endless road.

"What's alive and well are new ideas," Redford said. "With fresh new voices from all over the world, independent film will always survive. It's always been hard. Independent film has always been a bit of a battleground."