Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sundance Film Festival Kicks Off

Sundance Film Festival 2010 kicked off today with a press conference with Robert Redford and John Cooper, the festival's new director.  It was laid back, friendly, open and gave an interesting insight into the meanings of this year's edition, labeled with such slogans as Cinematic Rebellion, Renewed Rebellion, The Recharged Fight Against the Establishment, The Rebirth of the Battle for Brave New Ideas, Sundance Reminded.

As the festival's beginnings went back to the time before independent films had been co-opted by the major studios and the filmmakers integrated into the mainstream, so now the business of the majors is again recognized as a totally different business from that of independent flmmaking and the distribution of their films.  Again we see the separation clearly. 

Robert Redford opened with the T.S. Eliot quote, "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." as the theme of this festival.

Though neither Redford nor Coop stated exactly what the exact roots of the festival were aside from independence and a way for "small film makers" to show their films publically, Redford did say one of his greatest pleasures was the realization that not only did the festival create new opportunities for the filmmakers, it also created new opportunities for audiences to see work previously unavailable to them and that the audience itself had grown enormously and internationally in response to the independent works being shown, and that many of today's innovations were to extend the audience even further though its initiatives of VOD and You Tube.

My own interpretation of Return to Roots and Rebellion Against the Establishment, having attended every festival since its second edition, was also elaborated on by Redford as he spoke of globalization and the elimination of borders internationally.  In the early days of the festival, all of us 5 acquisitions executives would come and see regional independent films.  Rarely did we actually buy films, so it was remarkable when Skouras acquired Glen Petrie's New Orleans film Belizaire the Cajun. 

As Redford spoke of the growing importance of international documentaries telling true stories by filmmakers who put their lives into jeopardy to tell the stories, and as he expanded on his view that in the future, these docs would be more and more sought after by audiences searching for truth as media continues to gloss over the true emotional stories of world events, I realized that the Return to the Roots and the Rebellion themes of the festival, the end where we are starting, is in the regional story telling aspect of the festival.  Only now it's been expanded beyond the borders of the original U.S. Film Festival where it all began.

I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a single story of a dysfunctional family taking a road trip this year and I am thankful that what was becoming a recurring (and boring) Sundance theme has been replaced by the basic regional stories of people struggling and prevailing over the vicissitudes of their lives.

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