The initial main event for the credentialed press at the annual Sundance Film Festival is the opening press conference (PC). Traditionally, it's held on the Thursday of the festival's opening day in the early afternoon, at the historical Egyptian Theater on Park City's Main Street. This event is to share the projections for the festival; to talk about the new aspects the film audience will have an opportunity to experience; talk about themes in the chosen films; and share the influence the Sundance Institute has had on this year’s films and its filmmakers. It concludes with a Q & A (question and answer) time with the press.
The PC host, Barbara Chi begins by sharing that the festival is now in its 35th year celebration and asks actor and artist, Robert Redford, President and Founder of the Sundance Institute to address the question, "Why Are We Here"?
I never tire of listening to Redford share the story. Every year he addresses it with a different flare. Redford often shares the timeline but in addition he will tell an intimate part of the story that brings life to the Sundance beginnings. Every year I learn something different. I try to visualize the Sundance start-up, as I listen to Redford tell the story once again in celebration of the product of independent filmmaking and its people. It's a delightful experience.
This year I learned that it all began 40 miles from Park City, Utah, at a simple but scenic mountain region owned by Redford. Over the years, he has built a peaceful nature habitat known as the Sundance Resort, named after a Native American Indian, Sundance. In the 80s Redford had asked his film industry friends to come to the resort and help him create labs to teach and guide new filmmakers the art of telling a story through film.
What initially transpired was the making of 25 films and 10 documentaries that needed a place to showcase. The Park City Egyptian Theater welcomed Redford and his troop of independent filmmakers to give people in this ski town with four restaurants an opportunity to engage in a different type of storytelling. If I remember correctly, the first years they were begging ski fanatics walking up and down Main Street to come watch their films. One might think that there was a disconnect with the clientele. But, their personal invitations and persistence paid off. Redford recalls, "It took a while to catch on, but once it did, it took off like wild fire."
Thirty-five years later the Sundance Institute has expanded to not only showcase the independent film and its maker; but, music, creative innovations with the New Frontier section, the impact of virtual reality in the industry and much more have entered the scene. Each new entity plays a part in the expansion and breath of influence to creatively tell story.
This year alone Bleecker Street Productions showcased three or four independent films at the festival that have either already made it or will make it into the mainstream movie theaters in 2018.
The role of Park City itself continues to be "the place" to showcase the festival's wares for an ever growing dimension within the independent film scene. Stated by Redford, John Cooper (Festival director) and Kari Putnam (Sundance Institute director) they honor their beginnings by claiming that Park City is their place to present the festival. They are committed to staying in the festival birthplace as long as the city allows it.
New aspects discussed: EPISODIC work (Mini-series), The Ray--the new theater, and project reframe program geared for ages 18-25 years old. I participated in one of the EPOSODIC works called Wild Wild Country that was an all-day affair at the Egyptian theater....6 hours long. A thrilling experience. Netflix had already picked it up by the time I scented it at the festival and their release date for audience viewing was March 2018.
Chomping at the bit are journalists ready with their questions for answers of personal opinion from the festival directors on current world affairs. The "Me Too" & "Times Up" movements gaining momentum people wanted to know if the festival enabled Harvey Weinstein's behavior and how have they chosen to address the events. Putnam stated that they were sickened by the news of Harvey's conduct noting that two instances happened here at Sundance. The leadership has always felt this was a safe place. Making it clear that this type of behavior is not representative of the Sundance code of conduct. The take-away is that the Sundance code of conduct needs to be communicated clearly and that while there is safety in numbers their supportive community needs to grow closer together and take a stand against abuse and report it. Redford adds that positive change will come from the movements. He calls men out and says that they are required now to listen and learn. He then adds that women will be able to step forward with confidence to make change happen in the industry.
Another question that led to a fascinating dialogue was, "Can film change the world?" The answer was yes through story. A fan of documentary filmmaking, Redford says while working on the film All the Presidents Men he gained a great deal of respect for the job of a journalist because it's hard work getting to the truth and it matters. Redford sees the documentary film as the news we all should be watching because truth is told in many creative ways today. We need to listen and be informed. An hour-long reel can speak volumes of a voice needing to be heard.