I couldn't get a steady wifi connection at this afternoon's Sundance Opening Press Conference at the Kimball Art Center, so here's my "live blog" ... an hour after the fact:
Geoffrey Gilmore (fesitval co-director and programmer), Nicole Hofcener (director of opening night film, Friends with Money) and Robert Redford (duh) take the stage. Geoff starts, and right away the agenda seems to be about proving that Sundance still has cred:
"It's a pleasure to have an opening night press conference, we haven't in the past. Fest in the 20th year, Institute in its 25th. People don't understand the merging of the institute and the festival. Truth is, it's really hard to talk abou the festival when you haven't seen the films yet...I can tell you that I think the fest is as independent as a festival we've done in years, but you'll be the judge of that."
He lists the numbers on this year's program:
84 world premires
48 first time featuremakers
102 films to be presented on digital projection (!)
(Only 41 shot on digital formats)
35 features by women - speaks to our diverstiy, speaks to what this festival is about
if the number of films being made in this country is any indication of the level of interest in independent cinema ... look at the diversity of the range of films that are at this festival.
Geoff wants to ask two things of the press: that we try not to talk about the films by reducing them to summary points, and that we hold your judgements about what the festival is, until we get through the festival, and that we try to see work we wouldnt ordinarily get a chance to see (obviously, that's three. Wonder which one he made up on the spot?)
They then showed a trailer with clips spanning the festival's history – assuming it'll be shown before the films.
Geoff passes th mic to Redford, who says he wants to "help differentiate what Sundance really is, vs. how it's maybe percieved by other people." Wow – these guys are REALLY defensive. Watch out, Paris Hilton – Bob Redford wants you gone!
Redford says he wants to give us a brief history of the Sundance Institute, as well as the festival. "I'll try to be brief, i wont go back as far as the birth of my grandfather or anything like that." The press giggles. Hee hee - he's old.
"What the festival is, obviously we're pleased or proud about, is a showcase. But the real heart of Sundance is in development." Ie: the Sundance Labs. "We started this thing in 1986, and just like everything, when it started, there was no guarantee about anything. We didn't know ... it then became a market, and that's fine...but, with the size
of the fest, and the dimension of it, it began to develop outer tiers. So the perception of the festival really depends on where you're sitting...We program this as a festival, we don't program for commerciality, we program for diversity."
When they started the festival, Redford says, "I was told it would fail, because one, it would be in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of the winter. And i said, "Yeah, it's going to be a little weird..." Giggles all around. "But anyone who shows up in Park City in the middle of winter, they're there for independent film."
Redford's impetus in starting the Institute itself is pretty interesting: "After a decade of pretty hard work on my end, i decided to stop, and take a break, and think about putting something back into the industry," by creating a place for filmmakers to pracitce their craft outside of the industry,to make mistakes and to fail and learn and grow. "It would be free of competition, of money, so they would be able to take a risk and turn it into something positive ... and we would put it in the mountains to make it free of any kind of interference or pressure."
The Festival came later, he said, as a way for filmmakers working in the labs to showcase their films. "Because the relationship between exhibitors and distributors was so tight," there was no way for indie film to be seen. So they started a non-profit festival, "just to have a place for filmmakers' work to be seen."
As the Fest became more popular, says Red, he looked for ways to expand its scope. He first moved in on documentaries. "I had made a lot of documentaries in the 70s [ed. note: he did? really?] ... I believed documentaries were going to move away from talking heads ... and play a bigger role in the marketplace."
But all the way through, he says, the goal has been to program a diverse slate of films for an ever-more diverse audience. The philosophy? "We provide, you decide."
Before bouncing it back to Geoff, Redford says, "On a personal level, having Nicole here is kind of a coming home thing" - she had the excellent Walking & Talking at the development lab in 1992.
Geoff quickly namedrops a few festival higlights: a program to show new prints of classic indies - Mala Noche and Paris Texas, will screen this year, with the filmmakers here, and they've set up a program with Intel to push both out at NYU and UCLA.
Sundance FIlm Festival Online - adjunct to the festival, but its also a program into itself. 500 of the 81 shorts, you can download on the website. Playing through June. Interviews, Seminars.
Geoff on Friends with Money: "Tonight, of course, is the opening night. I can't tell you how exciting it is, and how proud we are, to have a film like this to kick off our festival with." Without directly referencing the so-called indie's very glitzy cast, he goes on: "There are a lot of issues that people will bring up to you about how that represents the independent spectrum - but the quality of this filmmaking, and the talent of this woman ... makes it a slam dunk. ... Its got the qualities of storytelling that make independent filmmaking what it is."
Toss to director Nicole Hofcener: "I was born here at sundance," she jokes.
They talk very little about the film itself - apparently, it gets its own press conference tomorrow morning at 11 AM. They quickly toss to questions from the crowd.
Redford answers a question about Sundance's role vs. the industry thusly: "[Sundance should be thought of] in addition to the industry, not replacing it." He goes on to say that filmmakers have a choice, to be corporate or indie, and they don't try to sway them either way when they come out of the Sundance labs. But, 'If they get the shit beat out of them, don't say we didn't warn them."
As for the future: "What I'm kind of excited about is shorts...New technology is providing a venue, whether its cell phones, or starbucks, or whatever."
Re: the problem of buzz: "Some films created a huge buzz, got picked up for a lot of money and went nowhere ... Others come in under the radar, like Blair Witch ... But I think you have to wait for the dust to settle. I think the media is a big
part of it ... There's also the merchants, the studio heads, who create their own buzz...sometimes people start competing, and they haven't seen the film. And we just say, wait."
A reporter from Montreal asks an inane question - does Redford see Sundance as more of a Butch Cassidy, or a Sundance Kid? The crowd is barely able to repress a groan. Clearly thinking she's an idiot, Redford says, "I don't think I can answer that." Everyone laughs. He goes on: "That's such a commercial phrasing ... Maybe instead you'd say, Treasure of Sierra Madre." the crowd goes wild - or, as wild as a batch of mostly-pasty journalists battling altitude sickness can really get.