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.
“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.