Robert Redford with Sundance Institute head Keri Putnam and Festival Director John Cooper. Photo by Brian Brooks
It is not often — or ever — that a press conference with Robert Redford kicking off the Sundance Film Festival starts out with an audience “Boo,” but in this case, it was in support of the actor and founder of Sundance Institute. Redford along with Sundance Institute head Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper made their annual pilgrimage on the stage of the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street in Park City. Typically, it's a chance for the trio to tout the year's festival as well as the year-round work of the Institute. That did happen to be sure, but the elephant in the room was how Robert Redford would react to not receiving a Best Actor nomination Thursday morning for his work on the much lauded All Is Lost by filmmaker (and Sundance veteran) J.C. Chandor. Redford noted he had come up short in the Oscar race for Best Actor, prompting the sympathetic reaction from the audience.
“The film that I made with JC Chandor is a film I'm very proud of,” said Redford, addressing the expectation head-on. “It's independent which is why we're here. It was so stripped down of things we expect from a lot of films such as voiceover, effects, dialog…It gave me a chance as an actor to go back to my roots where I started, so I'm very happy about it.” Redford hypothesized why the film failed to receive an Oscar nod Thursday, while also saying he understood. Still, some in the room took some comments as perhaps a criticism of how the film was released, while acknowledging that Awards Season is in itself also influenced by money and campaigning.
“Hollywood is a great business and I have nothing but respect for that,” said Redford. “I've spent a lot of time with that in my career and I respect that. Usually awards are very much dependent on campaigns. That's part of the business and that's ok. Our distributor didn't spend as much money to get it to cross over into the mainstream for whatever reason. It would have been great to be nominated of course, but I'm ok with it. I was so happy to do this film because it was independent. The rest is not my business, it's their business. And I'm fine…”
Moving on, Redford touted filmmakers who had their start either at the Sundance Film Festival or through the many programs organized by the Sundance Institute, including its annual labs that cut across various areas of filmmaking in addition to theater and beyond. He noted that nominees David O. Russell (American Hustle) and Alfonso Cuarón had roots with Sundance.
Four of this year's five Documentary Oscar nominees played at last year's Sundance Film Festival, though Festival Director John Cooper said that awards should be given the proper perspective since the whims of voters, campaigns and other factors cannot fully determine the quality of a film, instead pointing out that a film like Oscar nominee Cutie and the Boxer is evidence “the world is accepting non-fiction in interesting ways.”
Cooper, Putnam and Redford cited “failure” as a growth mechanism and said the festival will devote panels and workshops Monday keeping that in mind. Cooper said that Sundance had missed the mark with some films in the past including Bottle Rocket (1996) which the festival had passed on. Acknowledging their mistake, the festival will host a special screening of the Wes Anderson film which star Luke Wilson will introduce. “What is closest to my heart is to play a film we failed to show the first time around,” said Cooper who celebrates his 25th year with the festival this year.
Sundance has nevertheless been a force for independent filmmaking in the U.S. and around the world for three decades. Keri Putnam touted the organization's 30 labs and 400 artists who have been participatnts as well as the $7 million its Artists Services branch has helped Sundance veteran filmmakers to raise through Kickstarter for their next projects. “You see an increasing polarization between what the studios make that appeal to a mass market and it lets us have an opportunity to look at the personal index storytellers that allow for going beyond the broad appeal stories,” said Putnam. “We believe our goal is to find those personal distinctive stories that bubble out over communities and find their way into the world.”