There was a change of emphasis at the press conference that is the official opening of the Sundance Film Festival 2019. The tradition each year has seen Sundance Institute’s founder, Robert Redford, take the stage alongside Festival Director John Cooper and Sundance Institute Director Keri Putnam to hold an informal panel discussion and answer questions from the audience of international press.
This year, Redford gave a brief solo introduction that demonstrated he was ready to step back from his public role.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years,” he said, before thanking members of the press for their role in bringing Sundance filmmakers to a wide global audience.
“I think we’re at a point where I can move on. I’ve been introducing everything; what I’ve missed is involvement with the filmmakers.”
In his brief speech Redford also honoured the hundreds of Sundance volunteers whose hard work makes the Festival possible before handing the stage and the mic to Institute Director Keri Putnam.
Putnam gave a strong presentation, reminding the audience that the Festival is a not for profit program designed to support the artists.
“In the age of streaming and consolidation of commercial media, (Sundance) is a public square for independent voices,” she stated, citing “depth and risk” versus “views and clicks.”
She pointed out that artists bring powerful subjective views in a culture that emphasises commerce for storytelling.
Picking up Redford’s acknowledgement of the role of the press, Putnam described the Institute’s proactive stance on ensuring press credentials were granted to a diversity of journalists, not only “white, male critics,” but 63% accredited Press from under-represented groups.
Having reinforced Sundance’s commitment to diversity, and reminded us the slogan for this year’s Festival is ‘Risk, Independence,’ Putnam handed over to Cooper with Programming Director Kim Yutani and four members of her programming team.
What followed was a rich, wide ranging discussion with a few questions from the press read out by Cooper rather than taken from the floor. The impression was Sundance wanted to show they mean business when it comes to seeking out and showcasing original filmmaking voices.
“This Festival is more relevant in these divided times than ever before,” Cooper stated, as the panel spoke passionately about Sundance’s commitment to gender parity and its strong program of outreach and inclusion.
Sundance has always stood above other festivals in giving as much weight to documentary as fictional drama. This year’s selection of 45 documentaries carries hard hitting projects fuelled by filmmakers’ reaction to the Trump regime, including Knock Down the House and Hell Satan?
“What is the message from this slate of films about the state of America?” was the question from one journalist.
“Unflinching, emboldened,” was the response. “And optimistic – because stories are getting out.”
The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan 24 – Feb 3, 2019 and features short films, documentaries, episodic, panel discussions and the New Frontier art technology project. Feature films include a reimagining of After the Wedding starring Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, directed by Moore’s husband Bart Freundlich and Honey Boy, based on Shia LaBeouf’s life with an alcoholic father. A record 6 Australian Films are featured including World Drama Competition entry Judy and Punch by Mirrah Foulkes.
Top Photo Credit: Dan Campbell