Robert Redford on Sundance Upheaval: 'We Were Beginning to Flatline'
It's Jan. 21 in Park City, where Robert Redford saw his shadow and thus ushered in another in another 10 days of the Sundance Film Festival. The actor/producer/director/festival potentate this afternoon hosted his customary State of Sundance Address for a typically packed house at the Egyptian Theater -- his first such opening-day appearance that anyone here can remember without former fest director Geoffrey Gilmore at his side. But the past was way past for Redford and Gilmore's successor John Cooper (above left), both of whom spoke of Sundance's mandate to push beyond the mythology, glitz and snow -- and, candidly, Gilmore himself -- in the new decade ahead.
"In the last few years," Redford told the gathering, "I've always been aware: "How are we with the marketplace? How are we doing with the changes that are occurring so drastically? Are we staying out in front of things? Are we sliding back? Are we afraid to take the chances that we took to get going?" I felt like we were sliding. We were beginning to flatline, and we needed a fresh new approach. We needed to get fresh again. I thought [about] getting back to our roots, where we first started, where there was a great separation between independent film and the mainstream. Now there isn't so much separation. But that was to create new opportunities for work to be seen. And that was about new ideas and new voices coming on. And I thought the best thing we could do to be new and fresh was to get more closely back to our roots -- the way we were when we first started.
"As far as Geoff Gilmore," Redford continued, "I hired Geoff back in 1990. Geoff did an amazing job; he came from an archival background at UCLA. And any of you who know Geoff [know] he's extremely articulate, incredibly passionate and a great lover of film. And he did an amazing job for many, many years. But it was simply time for fresh new blood. I think you have to keep rejuvenating yourself from to time to time. That goes for many eras. I just think it simply coincided with Geoff's need to move on. So it was really kind of a coinciding of proper things to be happening at that time. I have a great fondness for Geoff; he gave so much to this institute for many years. But it was time for him to move on, and it was time for us to move on. [...]
Redford then gestured to Cooper. "John has been here for a long time, and he's been doing incredible work for a long time," he added. "He's been programming for a long time, and he's developed relationships with the filmmakers for a long, long time. So it wasn't just Geoff. It was the staff -- led pretty much by John. So a couple of things come forward now that I think are quite exciting. As Geoff as moved on to his new ventures, John steps up to do something he could have done quite a while ago. And now he has the freedom to be creative on his own front. And he's doing it. And you'll see the results of it during this festival. I'm pretty excited about it."
Cooper took the floor next for a few forthright words of his own. "Just to cap that," he said, "I don't need to talk about 'back to our roots.' In the end I don't really know what that means all the time." Cooper laughed and turned to Redford. "I'm sorry! You did a wonderful job of explaining it! But the word that we used this year when we talked about it was 'reminded.' Reminding ourselves not just who we are to the outside world, but who we are to ourselves. Going back to Bob's vision, we talked a lot about that: What this was all done for in the first place. For me, those aren't just cheap words I'm throwing out. 'Sundance Reminded' is where we're coming from this year. It's very schizophrenic to talk about new and old, because I was here all those years with Geoff as well.
"So I'm very schizophrenic -- if there were problems with the festival before, then I was probably part of those problems. And I'm willing to look at our filmmaking community and learn from them how to move forward."