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One Festival’s Loss, Another’s Festival’s Gain
by Karen Pecota

I sat in the second row close to the center isle in the Egyptian Theater waiting for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival opening-day-press conference (PC) to begin. I was confident of my seating position for wonderful photos. I sat next to a journalist from Lithuania and we connected when I asked him if he would be attending the Berlinale in a couple of week’s time. He confirmed he would be present and we continue to chat of similar interests as journalists until the PC got underway. As an eight-year veteran of the Cannes Film Festival, he strongly encouraged me to attend the Lithuanian Film Festival to view the most beautiful films to be seen around the world. I thought, “Oh! How sweet!”

The moment had arrived, appearing front stage and center was the Sundance Festival Director, Geoffrey Gilmore, followed by the president and founder of the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford. The room exploded with a long round of applause with the choreographed accompaniment of clicks of the camera shutter heard in various musical octaves. The perfect photo sequence would no doubt evolve for one of us. I will never tire of these initial sights and sounds. It is exciting! The atmosphere is always different and the dialogue to follow is never boring.

As soon as the PC stars adjusted their eyes to the camera flash, Robert Redford greeted the press in his usual jovial manner, “Hi everybody! We would like to welcome you all here to day. Uhmmm… If you have any questions...don’t ask them. (Audience laughs)… I keep hearing that this is the festival’s 25th anniversary. I really don’t know when it is because I think we have been celebrating it for three years now. All I know is that in 1984, 1985, and in 1986 we did “something” and we have traveled a long time on our “something” journey. For me it’s not just looking back on the long or the short term of our endeavors, but it is that we have survived. We are all very proud of this fact.”

Gilmore and Redford took a seat at the presenting table (set up for two people) and began to share the Sundance Festival origins. I noticed that the set up was a bit different than in years past. The seating was formal and they did not have a place for Adam Elliot, the director, of the festival’s opening film, Mary and Max. I assumed that the different nuance was on purpose and the intent was to take time to dialogue with the press about the festival’s successful history or whatever else. They sincerely appreciate the press and relay a message of thankfulness for their continued support.

Some journalists wanted to know their opinions about the presidential inauguration taking place during the festival, others wanted to dialogue about fusing art and new technology in film, others wanted a comment on the idea about Sundance going global. I was impressed with the advice in which Redford and Gilmore gave when asked if they would give the same advice today as twenty-five years ago, to those looking for opportunities available in the industry. They acknowledged that the film business is a difficult field. “It is a very hard road to travel down. One will work very hard for a very long time. It is not easy!” Redford says that you need to seriously ask and ponder upon the question, “What do I want to do in the business?” Seek help to realize the desire, and work toward the realities that market how to get to that point.” He basically says to be patient, to take one step at a time and don’t skip any steps in the process because each one has its merit. Their big message is that stories need to be told, and their challenge is to “do it right!”

I was unaware that the Brita (one of the festival sponsors) water canister positioned smack in the middle of the table in between Gilmore and Redford would cause blockage of photographing Redford nicely. It was so bad almost every photographer around me got up during the PC to get shots from a clearer angle. I opted not to be another disruption and focused on getting shots of Gilmore. I am thankful now, because I will not see Gilmore in that setting again. On February 16, 2009, Gilmore resigned his position as the Sundance Film Festival Director. He was hired a few days later by Tribeca Enterprises to take their position as the Tribeca Festival’s Chief Creative Officer. He will be Tribeca’s global content strategist and lead expansion of the creative development initiatives. Prior to his career paradigm shift, Gilmore was instrumental in shaping the independent film scene in the U.S. with the Sundance Film Festival organization for the past nineteen years and fifteen years earlier served as the head of the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Programming Department.