By Indiewire | Indiewire January 19, 2007 at 4:46AM
"Well, hello," Robert Redford casually told a packed Egyptian Theater as he walked onto the stage Thursday afternoon in Park City, UT. Without fanfare or an introduction of any sort, he made his way over to a chair and -- holding a cup of coffee as flash bulbs popped furiously -- Redford leisurely reflected on what the Sundance Film Festival has become, during a press conference. Later on Thursday, in front of a full house at the Eccles Theater for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival opening night screening, Redford evoked a few memories of past festivals, but quickly added more provocative comments in line with the spirit of protest seen in Brett Morgen's unconventional opening night documentary "Chicago 10." Morgen's self-described hybrid film, from Participant Productions and River Road Entertainment, mixes archival footage and animated re-enactments that are voiced by notable actors. On Thursday night, while some buyers and filmmakers debated the movie's merits in the lobby immediately after the first screening ended, inside the auditorium, most in the crowd gave Morgen a standing ovation.
"Some of us who had issues or questions with the legitimacy of that election or the leaders that came out of it put our voices on hold in the spirit of unity," Redford told the Eccles crowd, setting the stage for the movie and reflecting on 2000 and 2001. "We put all of our concerns on hold to let the leaders lead, (but) in the last year we can now reflect on that," he added. "I leave it to you to decide how you feel about it. I think we are owed a big, massive apology."
iW: Video clip link - indieWIRE On The Scene in Park City, Episode 1, including footage from the Redford press conference and an interview with Brett Morgen.
"Brett's film is about another time when young people of this country and others of like mind joined them in protest and raised their voice in that protest," Redford said prior to the opening night screening. "They risked something...they put themselves out there in harm's way to have their voice heard."
It was one of the few times that Sundance, known as a champion of documentary work, opened with a non-fiction film. Earlier in the day, back at the press conference, Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford hailed the choice of a documentary, specifically this documentary as the fest opener.
"We really are making a statement about what we feel about the importance of documentary and also the content of the film," Redford told the full house of journalists inside the Egyptian on Main Street.
"The reason that documentaries have penetrated the marketplace as deeply as they have is because of what these two gentlemen have created here," Morgen said, praising Redford and festival director Geoff Gilmore and adding that Sundance is the entity responsible for most of what he has accomplished in his own career.
The spirit of protest, the focus on a provocative film, and an outspoken filmmaker are key messages that underscored an emerging voice that the Sundance leadership are trying to convey. As reported yesterday in indieWIRE, this year's mantra (visbile on large, colorful buttons being worn by organizers and attendees) is: "Focus On Film."
"I'm glad that we are here since this is where it started," Redford told the full house of reporters and camera crews at the Egyptian on Thursday, adding, "Except when we started there were no cell phones." He elaborated a bit on how the event has changed over the years, explaining, "The success came and brought other elements, which as I said is fine, but we would like to try to remind people about why we are here and what we are about."
Redford's words were underscorced by the comments of Geoff Gilmore, who shared a few remarks to prepare attendees for the next ten days.
"In the 17 years that I have been directing this festival," Gilmore said during the press conference, "Every single year there has been a sense of change, a sense of evolution about what is going on in the independent film arena." Continuing he emphasized, "I don't know that I have ever had a greater sense of anticipation than I have this year. A lot of it has to do with that development, that evolution. This sense of a change [exists] in the independent film arena that I think has expanded the vision of American independent filmmakers."
Concluding his thoughts, Gilmore added, "This is a festival marked by almost a newfound self-awareness...that is kind of inspiring, it's exciting -- it's there in the quality, it's there in the innovation and (in) the risk-taking."
Inside indieWIRE On the Scene: Park City
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The Sundance World Dramatic Competition director of "Drained" (Heitor Dhalia) discusses his fourth directorial effort, the rigors of financing a film that investors found was "disgusting or impossible to make," and his goals with showing his film in America for the first time in his interview in today's indieWIRE.
Get the latest coverage of Park City '07 in indieWIRE's special section here at indieWIRE.com