Robert Redford has two kinds of buzz going at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: there’s the early buzz, which has been more about a new book critical of him and the festival, and then there’s the usual buzz about what’s hot among the festival films.
Redford hasn’t read the book, “Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film,” but doesn’t seem unduly surprised by its appearance.
“Fourteen years ago the writer (Peter Biskind) did a real hatchet job on us that was very disingenuous. Some people have an agenda of their own and those kinds of things are more about them,” he said.
“As far as this festival goes, I don’t define it. It defines itself,” he added. “What films have come out of the lab, what films have come through the festival and then gone on from there. Also, the filmmakers who have come through it for the last 20 years, talk to them about it. That to me is where the truth is.”
He shrugged, “The only thing you can do is just keep doing what you’re doing and look at the results.”
Outwardly, Redford’s take on the course of the festival and the nature of independent film was characteristically cheery, especially with the realization that Sundance’s participation with this festival is now in its 20th year. He seemed personally energized and vows to get to more films this year.
Redford’s own production company, South Fork, has a film playing in the festival, “Motorcycle Diaries,” directed by Walter Salles. He also stars in a low-budget, work-in-progress, “The Clearing,” about the underside to success, that also will be screened at the fest. It was directed by first-time filmmaker Pieter Jan Brugge.
Finding an audience still keyYet, in 20 years of the growth of the festival, Redford readily acknowledged that the more things change the more they remain the same. The most daunting challenge facing new filmmakers, like 20 years ago, is to get their work shown.
“The industry is constructed against them,” he said. “We no longer have the sorts of platforms where you could build word-of-mouth for such projects. Now, it is all about the big opening weekend. They get it (box office) to figures where it almost reaches the negative cost of the film.
“This is a dangerous environment for artists to work in, and it is not likely to open. My gut is that new distribution forms will evolve with the new technology -- DVDs, broadband.”
In essence, he predicted technology would be the ally of the independent filmmaker. In years past, technology and the indie filmmaker seemed mutually exclusive in the sense that indie filmmakers were often disdainful of technology, or, as per their nature, more interested in the human aspects of narrative filmmaking.
“Technology will democratize film,” he said. “There are alternative networks of distribution that are going to come on the horizon that are going to make filmmaking easier. But they are also going to have the problem of quality. A 14-year-old kid can grab camera and call himself a filmmaker, (but that) does not mean it is going to be any good. But for the filmmaker there is a positive sign in the marketplace, so I consider that positive.”
Nonetheless, Redford stressed that technology, or at least the mindset that develops it and celebrates it, must also change in order for it to survive.
“I think technology has got to lose its image as being cold, soulless, alien and geek-oriented,” he felt. “It must move to the humanistic side of things. It must ally itself with more humanistic elements out there. I think that is where Sundance is trying to move. You can’t go forward without emphasizing the human aspect.”