The start of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival began Thursday, as it always does, with a press conference with founder Robert Redford.
Redford opened the discussion at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, sitting alongside Sundance Institute head Keri Putnam and festival director John Cooper, by touching on the country’s current hard economic times, calling it “dark, grim” and in a state of paralysis.
“The happy thing is this week we’ll see work that’s reflective of these hard times but there’s no paralysis here,” he said in his usual Park City uniform of jeans, sweater and vest.
Marking Putnam’s second festival as Institute head, she touched on three topics — distribution, globalization and technology — that she says have been the main focus for Sundance in the past year and going forward.
Launched a year ago, the Institute created Artists Services to give filmmakers who leave the festival without distribution a chance to have their films seen digitally. And with New Video as its aggregator, 13 Sundance alumni titles are currently available through the service.
She also touched on the Sundance London Music and Film Festival, a four-day event taking place in April that will continue the expansion of the Sundance brand abroad. Said Putnam, “Thirty percent of the filmmakers at the institute are international.”
And with the first-ever New Frontier Story Lab taking place this past October, Sundance is bringing attention to one of its more dynamic sections of the festival, which converges film with new media technologies. Redford recalled that years ago, the only festival's new-technology highlight were camera companies showing off their newest products.
The New Frontier section has also expanded its space this year, moving from the historical Miners Hospital to The Yard. “They didn’t like the idea of me knocking down 200-year-old walls,” said Cooper jokingly about why they left the hospital.
Cooper also touched on how for the first time in the festival’s history, all films in the Premieres section will start the fest vying for distribution. This leads to more producers approaching the festival about their work, rather than distributors hoping to generate publicity for a first-quarter release by getting it programmed in the section.
“To me, producers are more hands on than they were 10 years ago,” he said, referring to how aggressive they’ve become about getting the right premiere for their films at a festival.
“Success has two sides,” said Redford. “The festival has a lot of hype and it’s good for the filmmakers, but it’s harder and harder to remind people who we are and why we’re here. This is about the filmmakers and showing their work to you.”