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Is Sundance Too Big for its Own Good? Founder Robert Redford Proposes Big Changes

Is Sundance Too Big for its Own Good? Founder Robert Redford Proposes Big Changes

Between the record-breaking deal for Nate Parker’s "The Birth of a Nation" and many other multi-million dollar purchases, including the $10 million Amazon paid for "Manchester By the Sea," there’s no doubt this year’s festival is Sundance’s biggest yet. But it’s not just the films that are getting bigger and selling for more, and according to festival founder Robert Redford, Sundance might be getting too big for its own good. Speaking to the Associated Press earlier this week, Redford laid out some of the challenges Sundance faced this year and outlined some big changes that may happen moving forward.

READ MORE: The Best Things Robert Redford Said on the Opening Day of Sundance 2016

"I’m starting to hear some negative comments about how crowded it is and how difficult it is to get from venue to venue when there is traffic and there are people in the streets and so forth," Redford told the AP. "We’re going to have to look at that…. When actors came who were well known, then the paparazzi came. Then once the paparazzi came, the fashion houses came. Suddenly this thing was going haywire."

Haywire is perhaps an understatement considering just how lucrative the festival has become in the past several years. Look no further than the buying frenzy that erupted before this year’s Sundance even started. In the week leading up to opening night, numerous distributors, most notably Amazon and Netflix, were already engaging in bidding wars and snatching up distribution rights to anticipated titles.  

Yet as Redford warns, further growth could potentially be a problem. "As it grew, so did the crowds, so did the development in Park City. Well, at some point, if both those things continue to grow, they’re going to begin to choke each other," he said. "So then I have to think about, oh, do we now risk being who we are in the first place? Do we risk [losing] the heart and soul of what we were when we started against the odds…. Do we have to now rethink things?"

Redford is already rethinking. One of his ideas to combat overgrowth is to break Sundance up into multiple sections and spread them out over different months. Instead of cramming all sections into one week — from narratives to documentaries, shorts, New Frontier, revivals and more — Redford is toying with having some sections play in January and others in February.

"You have a couple of choices," he said. "You can go hard and say we’re going to stop it. Say, ‘that’s the end.’ Let it go. Let someone else do it," he said. "Or, you say, ‘well, if you want to keep it going, we can’t keep it going the way things are.’"

Redford won’t be coming to conclusions anytime soon, but he’s clearly realizing that change will be essential in keeping Sundance alive and thriving. Head over to the Associated Press for more of Redford’s thoughts.

READ MORE: The 2016 Indiewire Sundance Bible: All the Reviews, Interviews and News Posted During The Festival

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"Perhaps Mr Redford will consider bringing the festival back to it’s roots. Then the flow of celebs will wane and once again it will be about new emerging film talent" Or better yet, maybe the Sundance Institute could stop PROGRAMMING films that have huge celebrity casts. Oh wait, that will never happen because their sponsors and wealthy percenters in the Sundance Circle would flee (as well as all the press and the industry). They would have to lay off 90 percent of the Sundance paid staff and 75% of the housing in Park City would go unfilled. The festival would become no better than some local film festival that most people ignore. Be like Cannes and Toronto — embrace it and stop acting like you are above the madness that your underlings actually caused.


Shut up Russ you wannabe. Your idiotic statement suggests that agents managers film funders development executives shouldn’t attend parties for movies they weren’t involved. Guess what idiot… filmmakers want to make films and need future relationships to do so. Redford needs to look at his own house before he criticize anything. They add celebs to the jury because the billionaires who are Sundance Circle demand more celebs. If you want a festival with less celebs it’s already in Park City and it’s called Slamdance. Oh the Reno idea is good the problem is that they won’t fear the Institute the way Park City does. Hence Sundance will never move.


You shouldn’t be allowed to attend films or ‘private parties’ unless you are a part of a film that is premiering at the festival. That’s it. That would subject the wannabes to have to go elsewhere or stay in LA & continue being wannabes…


Maybe move it to someplace like Reno which has better infrastructure? Please don’t kill me.


@LindaNelson totally agree with you. A lot of the films playing would have gotten distribution without premiering at Sundance. It should be more again about emerging new talent.

michelle wales

Yes there was so much car traffic this year. I think its because of Uber –nobody’s taking the shuttles any more…

constance mortell

If they do nothing else, they owe it to their loyal film audience and dedicated staff to rebuild, from the bottom up, their entire on-line infrastructure.

Linda nelson

This has been an issue for many years. Sundance has turned into cultural go-to event for celebrities and a marketing platform for films that have a pedigree. It has nothing to do with showcasing really new talent or helping emerging filmmakers find an audience. The movies featured in the festival are all movies that would have gotten distribution without coming to Sundance. Perhaps Mr Redford will consider bringing the festival back to it’s roots. Then the flow of celebs will wane and once again it will be about new emerging film talent instead of being a destination for people that don’t care about film to brag about what private parties they went to. Bigger is not always better. There is an ideal size for everything. Finding out what that is can be challenging, but worth the effort.

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