Sundance: Robert Redford Calls #MeToo and Time's Up Movements "A Tipping Point"

Robert Redford - Getty - H 2018
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As this year's event gets underway, it has adopted a new code of conduct that applies to all festgoers.

As the 2018 Sundance Film Festival kicked off Thursday in Park City, Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford hailed the #MeToo movement and the Time's Up initiative that are forcing Hollywood, both in the mainstream and indie film worlds, to confront gender inequality and sexual harassment.

"It's kind of a tipping point," he said. "It's changing the order of things so that women will have a stronger voice. They didn't have it before. Too much control by the male dominance. Now I think it's going to be more even-handed. I think the role for women to be able to step forward and exercise their voices more is a really wonderful thing, and I think the role for men is to listen, let women's voices be heard, and think about it."

Redford was joined by Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper as they raised the curtain on the festival, which runs through Jan. 28. They were peppered with questions about the current re-examination of how women have been treated, about attacks on the press under the banner of "Fake News" and, most specifically, about Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced co-founder of both Miramax Films and The Weinstein Co., who had been a major presence over the years at the fest, at which some of the most egregious sexual attacks of which he is accused allegedly took place.

Asked whether they felt Sundance had played a role in enabling Weinstein, Putnam responded, "We were sickened to hear, along with everyone else, about Harvey's behavior, and certainly even more so to learn at least a couple of those incidents happened during the Sundance Film Festival." She went on to say, "Sundance as an institution never contributed to that behavior. We have long-standing values of respect and tolerance. We support artists. We stand for diversity and creativity — a lot of things that are in direct opposition to that kind of behavior. I do want to be firm about that. Of course, these things sickened us and happened during our festival, but they were nothing we were aware of at the time."

Moving forward, Sundance has made some changes. While it has always maintained a code of conduct that applied to its staff and volunteers, this year it posted a code of conduct on its website that all festivalgoers are expected to observe to provide an atmosphere "free of harassment, discrimination, sexism, and threatening or disrespectful behavior." Working with the Utah attorney general's office, it also has established a hotline that anyone can call to report anyone violating the code.

While Weinstein was once an aggressive buyer at Sundance, scooping up some of the biggest films that emerged there, the trio discounted the impact of his absence this year. "He wasn't that big of a deal at the festival the last couple of years," Cooper observed.

"I think Harvey Weinstein was like a moment in time, and we're going to move past that. I don't think he's going to stop the show," said Redford. The Sundance founder added that while Weinstein appeared to be supportive of the festival, he actually used it for his own purposes. "Our purpose," said Redford, "was to make sure the festival is showing the work of artists."

On the larger topic of what Sundance is doing to support women filmmakers, Putnam noted that the Institute had worked with Women in Film and USC to identify the barriers women face in developing and maintaining careers in the film industry and then formed the ReFrame project to take their findings to studios and networks to press for change. "We learned we needed to spend more time and energy on early stage programs, we needed to do more outreach, we needed to find ways of going into communities and finding artists. We've done that — not just for women but a lot of different populations," she said. In order to help women and minority filmmakers pursue careers beyond an initial film, the Institute has also created programs and fellowships "to enable people to sustain their careers."

Putnam noted that 32 percent of the films at this year's festival have been directed by women, and 32 percent are the work of directors of color. "Not where we need to be, we understand there is more progress to go," she added, "but we're really proud as a festival representing a really wide array of story and storytellers, and I think that's very reflective of the conversation going on right now."

Asked about current attacks on the press, Redford testified, "First of all, I'm a huge fan of journalism. ... Journalism is our means of getting to the truth, and I think getting to the truth is getting harder and harder in this climate when you have so many stories being told by so many sources and you have the floating word of "fake" journalism. It becomes threatening to the proper use of journalism." He continued, "Our role at the festival is to promote journalism that really works hard to get to the truth against the odds." In an era of sound-bite journalism, Redford added, documentary films, which can devote an hour or more to exploring a topic in depth, become even more important.

Cooper pointed to some of the docs at this year's event that could have the impact of past Sundance debuts like Blackfish, citing Dark Money, which looks at election funding; The Devil We Know, an exposé about the dangers of a chemical used in the making of Teflon; and Our New President, which looks at the 2016 presidential election through the coverage of it by Russia's state-run media.

Cooper also made special mention of a short film by Marshall Curry called A Night at the Garden, which unearthed footage of a Nazi rally held in Madison Square Garden in 1939 "with a man standing onstage talking about how to make a better America, America has to change and how it's all the fault of the journalists. It is the most shocking thing I've seen of all the movies so far. It's horrifying."