Robert Redford Sundance London Interview
Robert Redford Sundance London Interview

Robert Redford

Sundance started as a new path, a new voice for artists through independent film to be heard that wouldn’t get a chance to be heard otherwise. What happened when our festival survived – and we didn’t know it would at the beginning – is that I noticed that the audiences that were coming at the beginning were just local people. Then it grew to other states and finally we earned globalisation in the nineties.

We were then able to bring films in from other countries and suddenly the whole cultural exchange was made possible. Whilst that was going on, I noticed that the audiences were so diverse along with the films and they were multiplying – I realised that actually this was a two-way opportunity - one for the artist and one for the audience. That’s when we decided that we would try and put in as much energy into growing audiences for these films and that’s why London is a great advantage for us because it’s a continuation of growing audiences.
Because American independent film is hardly an obscure presence in this country, given that Britain has such a problem promoting untested talent within Britain, if you're bringing an ethos of Sundance which promotes home-grown talent, had you thought about more promoting British filmmakers?

John Cooper

Of course, we have a long history of promoting British films at Sundance. Every year, I always make a joke that there are American films, British films and then everything else. Britain’s been very good to us. This year we had the opening night of Wuthering Heights. We’ve also had An Education, In the Loop – all the way back to Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was the opening night for the festival many years ago. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well.
Robert, you said that you want to build a picture internationally that's broadly reflective of the diversity of voices not always seen in your country's exports. Is this you damning Hollywood and the big-budget blockbuster?

Robert Redford

Starting early on in my career working in large Hollywood films was fun but it didn’t totally satisfy what needs I had, which was for something a little more risky, therefore more low budget and more independent. So starting Sundance was basically to enlarge the category for film and to include those people that might be shut out by the mainstream way of thinking and that hopefully would increase respect for film. The idea of independence and diversity is what it gets down to.

That diversity was not so available in the mainstream film industry because it is scaled down and has become more centralised following the youth market. So therefore, it got narrower and narrower, making it more prone to blockbusters, which is fine – I mean that’s fine, it’s entertainment – but not at the expense of the more humanistic side of the cinema.

So that’s what we are – it’s basically just enlarging, it’s not to deny or eliminate those films because they are obviously very satisfying on a worldwide basis. I just feel that there’s a hunger for other kinds of films as well. That’s what we represent.
David Cameron recently suggested that the British Film industry should focus on “commercially viable” movies. I wonder if you had any thoughts about how he might go about that?

Robert Redford

That may be [one of the reasons] why he’s in trouble. I won’t get into the other reasons because it’s none of my business, but no, I think that view is a very narrow one and doesn’t speak to the broad category of filmmakers and artists in the business.

John Cooper

It doesn’t speak to the audiences either.
Do you think that all the technological advances – IMAX, 3D – overshadow the craft of telling a story and characterisation? Have things gone too far the other way because we've become overwhelmed by the technology that's available?

Robert Redford

Yes, I do. I think the fall-out will occur on its own and organically. But yes, I think that technology has probably gone a little too far too fast and that in time – I’m not a particular fan of 3D – 3D will find it’s way in or out and the audiences will decide. But my feeling right now is that things have probably gone too far – at some great cost, by the way – and time will tell if it really works or not.
There's been such a huge buzz about Sundance this year. I believe Prince Charles is introducing his documentary, Harmony. What [has] that support meant, particularly from the Royals in Jubilee year?

Robert Redford

There’s another part of Sundance which doesn’t get much attention and that’s the importance of the environment. We put Sundance in the mountains in Utah, rather than in an urban environment in New York or Los Angeles, where you might think we would have it. There were two reasons why we decided not to put it in an urban environment. First, I couldn’t afford to start in an urban environment and the only thing I could afford was to contribute my own property. The other hope was that there might be something interesting that developed when you put a reserved part of nature against an art development.

Sundance, for a long time – and I’ve spent a large part of my life doing it – has been working for preservation, the environmental conservation, sustainability and so forth. So over time, that part of the festival has been eclipsed, I guess, by the film. But, His Royal Highness has been working on the same topic for many, many years and over the years, we have sort of indirectly communicated with each other over that common interest. I met with him last spring to discuss the idea of how we could work that into our festival. He’s been committed for a long time to sustainability and environmental conservation, so since I’ve done the same thing in my country, it seemed like a natural fit that we could support his film.
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Content updated: 13/11/2019 16:06

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