ROBERT REDFORD: You know, it’s interesting. I think of it—because it started—it was a big idea back in 1985. It was a big idea with a small start, because there was no support. There was only one theater in Park City. Sundance, the place, is not here in Park City; it’s 40 miles away, higher up in the mountains, tucked away. It’s where our lab programs are. That’s where the development process is. That’s where our nonprofit, Sundance Development, for the documentaries and the film and the theater and so forth, music. Park City works out for us because they have something we need, which is theatrical distribution capability, and we give them something they need, which is a venue to attract people. So, the first year, there was maybe 150 people that showed up. We had one theater, maybe 10 documentaries and 20 films. And now it’s grown to the point where it’s kind of like a wild horse. I can’t begrudge it. I mean, that was the dream. It started as just a hope. Then, when it became a reality, it started to have its own momentum.
And I thought, “Well, what if we can start a development process where young artists can have a voice, but we can help them develop their skills so they can at least get their films made?” That was the labs that started in 1980. Then, once that happened and we started a development process at Sundance, suddenly we realized that we were helping them develop their skills so that they could get their films made, but there was nowhere to go, because the mainstream had not allowed any space for them. And that led to the idea of a festival. So, originally, it was just an idea that maybe we can have a community of filmmakers coming together and share each other’s work. And maybe if we were lucky, somebody will come, and somebody else will come.
“I believe change is inevitable, and I think we can see there are people that go with change, there are others that don’t because they’re afraid of change. Because it’s inevitable I want us to be able to ride with it and use it to our advantage. The festival was meant to use change to underline the word diversity. And diversity is something I think we represent… The filmmaker’s films show how change is affecting the life we life and the society we live in.”
“Distribution is the end point, that’s what everyone dreams for and hopes for. It’s complicated. I’ve had some experiences that have been sad, I’ve done some films that have had no distribution or poor distribution. So I can identify with what young filmmakers are going through. I think distribution should be a topic for discussion. Filmmakers should have a voice in that because very often they’re left behind.”
“… I felt Sundance would be a gap filler, and if we focused on the independent films that were smaller and more diverse we would in a way keep something alive. It wasn’t an insurgency against Hollywood, it was just trying to keep alive something that was dying. To keep alive the idea of diversity and independence.”
[re: Charlie Hebdo attacks] “Clearly theres’ an attack on freedom of expression in many places, not exclusive to Paris. We believe in diversity and freedom of expression. You see a lot of films here that are going to upset other people. As far as we’re concerned we will do everything in our power to keep that alive.”
“Another thing happening at the time was Hollywood moving toward being centralized. The money was in the burgeoning youth market — big cartoons, Superman and Dick Tracy, high-budget cartoons. They were great, but it didn’t interest me. It was no longer a place where I could do the smaller work. They weren’t making those films anymore.
“I thought, Uh-oh, we’re going to lose this opportunity to give voice to new work. Okay, there’s a space here where we can take new artists who are independent — who have skills but need help. We can provide mentoring and help them develop their skills to the point where they can get their films made. So that’s how it started.”
“I was able to start the lab program. I’d contact my colleagues — accomplished screenwriters, accomplished actors, directors, cinematographers, and editors—and I said, ‘Would you be willing to volunteer time to help new filmmakers?’ And I was lucky — they came.
“A few years later, we were succeeding in developing some filmmakers accomplished enough to have their films made. That led to the idea of a festival — a gathering place where we can bring them together and we’ll share their work and they’ll share their work with each other, a home where they can come—and if we’re lucky, somebody else will come.”
“Suddenly the merchants started to come,” says Redford. “The agents came, the managers came, the publicity people came, the paparazzi came, then the fashion houses came. It’s not as much fun for me as it was in the beginning. It’s time for me now to go back and focus more on what I love doing and what I was meant to be, the artist at work or the director. That’s where I want to be now. It’s the endeavor — the joy for me is in the struggling, the not knowing. It’s the climb up the mountain.”