Sundance is currently involved in material development, showcasing finished work in the festival context, and will in the future have a theatrical exhibition component. Do you see Sundance ever filling in the missing links in that chain: physical production and distribution?
I don’t know. It’s very risky right now. We’re also a non-profit organization and that move would put us right into the profit zone. The planned Cinema Centers — as well as the Sundance Channel — are the first and only things right now that could potentially take Sundance into that profit arena, and we were very careful in going there. It took 15 years of planning. We also stay pretty much embedded in our non-profit work in development because we can maintain some level of purity. But in answer to your question, probably down the line we’ll be looking at those areas, but only when we’re very clear about how it would work. That’s not something you can do flying by the seat of your pants. Ironically, in the very beginning, we were just trying to provide an alternative to the mainstream. We weren’t trying to wipe it out. We aren’t revolutionaries — though I was born of that tendency. (laughs) But we didn’t want to dismantle the establishment, just expand an industry that was shrinking due to it becoming more centralized. Added to that were rising budgets, the rise of the youth market, digital technology — you could see everything moving away from story and characters. And independent filmmakers would have a hard time entering that business. So we began with the Lab and then we started the festival so people would see the filmmakers’ work — and look at the phenomenon that has become. The irony is that because we’re a non-profit, we’re not subject to programming the festival by the criteria of commerciality. We programmed films that we just figured would never make it to the marketplace, but that should be seen, if only by other filmmakers. But that grew and grew, and suddenly, (in 1989) we had “sex, lies and videotape” and certain other films that were picked up by Hollywood distributors and caught on with mainstream audiences. And with that commercial success came the merchants and the studio buyers. Then the celebrities came, which brought the fashion, which brought the media, mushrooming the festival into this big deal, while at the core of it, it’s being programmed exactly the same way we’ve doing it for the last 16 years. The mainstream programs based on commerciality; we program on what’s diverse and interesting. But because our formula has become successful, people flock to the festival to see something they cannot see in the marketplace. So they are abandoning commerciality in favor of diversity, making diversity commercial! It’s a weird paradox that I find pretty amusing. But what has to happen now is that we have to come up with more ways to market these films. And the best way to market is to have your own places for exhibit, so that’s why we’re moving into that direction.

The success of Sundance has inspired almost every city on the planet to have their own festival. So even those that never do get official distribution can be seen by thousands of people around the world.
That’s correct and it’s great. The more the merrier. A number of people have asked if I’m concerned about the cloning that went on around Sundance, with other people piggybacking our event to bring attention to themselves. There’s Slamdance, No Dance, Slumdance — any dance they could think of. But I have no problem with it, though the last thing anyone needs to do is savage one festival in order to make their own better because we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, which is give people a chance. I think we’re close to seeing a saturation point for film, and film is probably playing too great a role in our cultural development at the expense of other issues. The majority of film festivals are not set up for altruistic purposes, or to help filmmakers, but to help the community where they are held. It’s an injection of culture and a bit of window dressing for a few days or weeks. Well, Sundance is more than just a festival; it’s a year-round commitment and a place where artists can come and work.

How has interacting with young filmmakers recharged your batteries?
The only thing that succeeds is change. I believe you learn by doing. I was never good in school, in classroom situations where I was in a chair listening to someone with a book. I’m just much better with experiential learning. So change is a very attractive thing — so long as you’re there for it, open to it and a part of it. It’s like being on a wave rolling into shore; you can’t fight it. So Sundance is committed to always being on the front end of that wave of change. And when you have a situation in which creativity is so reduced — as it is in mainstream filmmaking right now as corporatization and marketing sensibilities have almost wiped it out — change is very attractive. It’s exciting. And if we don’t have more change, we’re going to snuff creativity in a wonderful medium. Combining that need with the fundamental need for storytelling and new technologies becomes very exciting, and we’ve seen a lot of experimentation at Sundance over the last few years with animation, mixed animation and even visual effects. But we need to see the dust settle on it a bit now.

Get the rest of the interview in part four of ROBERT REDFORD: THE SUNDANCE KID>>>

Posted on February 5, 2003 in Interviews by

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