PARK CITY – Robert Redford and the Sundance Film Festival brain trust reconvened once again for the festival's annual press conference kick-off Thursday afternoon. While this year's edition features documentaries on controversial topics such as Scientology (“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”) and the ex-gay movement (“I Am Michael”), the panel instead bounced around the subject of “change,” diversity and the impact of modern day television.
Redford, one of the co-founders of the festival, was asked a somewhat open-ended question about his belief in “change” and whether it was still happening at the festival.
“I believe change is inevitable,” he said. “And I think we can see that there are some people that go with change. There are others that don't because they're afraid of it. The idea was that the festival was meant to use change to underline the word 'diversity,' which I think moves the ball and I think that's something we represent. As things change I think the filmmakers roll with it and I think their films reflect the life we live in.”
More intriguing were Redford and Festival Director John Cooper's thoughts on television and how it can be showcased at an event like Sundance. In the past, the fest has found it hard to integrate modern day television programs noting – often off the record – that it was a “film” festival first. With so many new ways for people to consume content these days, that's changed. Redford, who got his start during the golden age of television, spoke more passionately about the art form at this press conference than at any previous one this writer can remember.
“I believe in television,” he said. “It's part of the fabric of storytelling in terms of film. Television is film. They are blurring and there is a reason why, aside from the money factor, it's harder and harder for an artist to find a way in the major film business. Some of the shows have been breakthrough. They have talent in writing and directing and actors. It's a wonderful platform of actors to develop themselves. Whether [TV and film comes] together as one or whether they stay separate? Television is advancing more than major filmmaking.”
Cooper remarked on Sundance's attempts to integrate TV content into the festival noting, “Two years ago we did 'Top of the Lake' here. 'Transparent,' we showed the first episode last year – the story of how Amazon's developing that. This year there is 'Animals,' which is independent television, and an HBO show, 'The Jinx.' Andrew Jarecki is showing two episodes of that. Interesting TV and independent film are running neck and neck. In the freshness, in the quality, we're running neck and neck and I think it's exciting.”
While Redford surprisingly did not comment on the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar nominations (Cooper made sure to note Ava DuVernay won the Grand Jury prize for directing at Sundance for “Middle of Nowhere” two years ago), he did reflect on the recent Charlie Hedbo tragedy in Paris. In his view, it's a broader problem that has to be seriously addressed.
“Clearly I think there is an attack on freedom of expression, not just in Paris,” he said. “It was a sad event. I also have a hunch it was a bit of a wake-up event. Freedom of expression seems to be in danger in a lot of areas, but we'll keep it alive here.”
Look for complete coverage of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for the next 10 days on HitFix.