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by Eric Kohn
January 17, 2013 7:06 PM
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Sundance 2013: Robert Redford Says There Are Too Many Film Festivals

Robert Redford at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday afternoon. Eric Kohn

Robert Redford has remained the most resilient symbol of the Sundance Film Festival since its inception. To some degree, the movies come second: Even the breakout hits, like last year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," take on new identities once they move beyond the festival environment. While Sundance alone can never define the best work in contemporary cinema, Redford takes great pride in his continuing ability to expose it.

Like clockwork, the actor-director-activist speaks confidently with press on the first day of the festival about the lasting value of Sundance as it moves through each decade of changes to the art and commerce of filmmaking, and this year was no exception.

However, this time he made a curious admission: If he had the opportunity to create Sundance today, he might think twice.

"I think there are probably too many festivals," Redford told a roundtable of journalists in Park City this afternoon. The actor said his interest in Sundance grew out of a frustration about the platforms available to films that interested him early in his career. "I started getting anxious about the stories that I wanted to tell," he said. "I realized over time that I was straddling two worlds and more and more happen with the smaller films. I wanted to extend that."

"I don't know about the overriding value except that we'll get the chance to see more films."

Since then, the prospects of film festivals highlighting work either outside of the mainstream or adjacent to it has expanded to such a great degree that, when asked if he might want to launch Sundance in the current environment, the response was instant: "Probably not," he said, then echoed a sentiment expressed at last year's festival, when he made the bold assertion that Sundance was the only "truly independent" gathering of its kind.

READ MORE: Sundance is the Only 'Purely Independent' Festival? Robert Redford Thinks So.

Redford clarified that he would launch Sundance "if there was still a space to have an independent festival, because it's really independence that interests me." By contrast, he quickly ticked off the limited festival environment when Sundance began. "There was Cannes, there was Toronto, I think Telluride was just gearing up. There was the oldest festival in the world in Locarno, Italy. Lincoln Center hadn't gotten to where it is. And then Berlin hadn't come yet. So we had an exclusive space that was sharpened by the fact that we were the only independent festival in the world. So that felt good."

These days, however, "there's a festival in every neighborhood," he added. "I don't know about the overriding value except that we'll get the chance to see more films."


  • yvette armstrong | March 19, 2013 1:04 AMReply

    I have a sundance film I am looking for help I wish you would contact me it is a great idea and will get a lot of people thinking I would really hope to hear from you my name is yvette Armstrong @ 206 551 6003 in Seattle. I have a children's book published thru author house I am not a nut just need a leg up thank you

  • Ekoli Hagenbuchle | February 11, 2013 10:08 PMReply

    I love Locarno but please the city is in Switzerland and not Italy.
    That's not a lovely mistake for Swiss citizen.

  • Brian Newman | January 19, 2013 11:25 AMReply

    While he has specifics wrong and leaves off facts like how long San Fran has been around, his underlying premise is correct. Nearly every festival was started because there weren't good ways to see these films in many cities in the US. We now have lots of access, and most of these fests just regurgitate what Sundance programs. We don't necessarily need fests for discovery and there are way too many now.

  • GlobalWatchM3 | January 19, 2013 11:17 AMReply

    There are only "too many film festivals," if you're already a very successful big time filmmaker.

  • Terry | January 19, 2013 10:21 AMReply

    He's getting very close to "You damn kids get off my lawn" territory in saying there are too many festivals. Bob, your indie film revolution was successful. This is what it looks like. The flipside of that is Sundance is no longer the only festival game for indie filmmakers.

  • seafar | January 18, 2013 12:52 AMReply

    Venice is oldest fest in world, founded in the 1930's. Locarno was founded in 1946. Berlin was founded well before Sundance....but, no matter, that basic premise is correct...or perhaps should be rephrased...there are too many festivals operating under the old premises of festivals.

  • Corvo | January 18, 2013 11:20 AM

    Right. And Locarno is in Switzerland, not in Italy.

  • jean vigo | January 17, 2013 11:51 PMReply

    Lynn Shelton is premiering her 5th (that's 5) feature. How does the term "emerging" qualify?

    Her 1st won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006.

  • remc | January 17, 2013 9:19 PMReply

    Great story. ... The guy who started the nontraditional festivals...

  • Sarah | January 17, 2013 7:52 PMReply

    Locarno is in Switzerland, just saying...

  • Jackie | June 11, 2013 5:37 AM

    No need to add "just saying" in this context..

  • Corvo | January 18, 2013 11:21 AM

    And it is NOT the oldest film festival in the world.

  • Quackhead | January 17, 2013 9:35 PM

    Redford has a Swiss cross on his arm too! I totally didn't Locarno was the oldest film festival in the world that's pretty cool.

  • Sarah | January 17, 2013 7:54 PM

    But you said that, sorry