PARK CITY, UTAH—Actor-director Robert Redford talked change, plus sex, guns and money at a media conference prior to the opening of the 29th edition of the film festival he founded in a once-sleepy Utah mountain town.
Looking relaxed (and wearing the same black and red Sankt Moritz long-sleeved shirt he wore at last year’s Q&A session) and younger than his 76 years, Redford talked about how the Sundance Film Festival has welcomed change, starting with his move to champion documentary films at a time when the film industry only cared about features back when Sundance started.
When asked to name the biggest change at this year’s festival, Redford talked about how many movies that deal with sex of all stripes are on the program — and that the kind of sex on screen is much different than when he started his film career in the 1960s.
“I think you’ll see in terms of social mores, when I came to the business in the early ’60s, sex was very connected to romance; sex was very often portrayed in a romantic way,” said Redford. “Times have changed, customs have changed, habits have changed. Now I think we look at sex in a whole different context. It’s more about relations and I think that’s the re-emphasis. It’s not sex per se.”
The Oscar-winning actor (The Sting) and director (Ordinary People) clearly has no time for the Sutherland Institute, the ultra-conservative Utah public policy group that says the state has no business throwing financial support behind Sundance when it promotes sexually explicit material. It pointed to movies like Lovelace, the story of porn star Linda Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried, which has its world premiere next Tuesday.
“Sometimes the narrowest mind barks the loudest and we have come over time to just ignore it,” said Redford, adding the festival brings some $ 80 million to the area over the 11 days of Sundance and offers plenty of choice on its varied programs. “That’s pretty good,” he said. “We bring something to the table.”
He also had some thoughts on violence — especially guns — in movies, a perennial hot topic made even more relevant after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and President Barack Obama’s review of how to curb gun violence.
Certainly Sundance and its filmmakers have never shied away from onscreen violence. Among its most famous premieres was Quentin Tarantino’s career-making feature Reservoir Dogs in 1992. And Redford pointed out that the year Sundance began, in 1980, was the same year former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was shot.
Redford, who talked about seeing two billboards using people with guns to advertise movies on a recent drive through L.A., said he welcomes the dialogue about guns that’s now underway.
“Does my industry think that guns will help sell tickets?” he wondered. “I don’t know. It’s not a question I could answer, but it seems a question worth asking my industry. It seems fair. I’ve noticed how often guns are used in ads as if there’s something that translates in a positive way.”
Still, Redford, who told the Associated Press’s David Germain that the tiny fest he founded with a handful of movies screening in a single theatre has morphed into something “like a monster’s ball,” made no mention of nostalgia for simpler times. His gaze was clearly on the future Thursday, hours before the first movies unspooled as stars were busy primping for red carpet appearances.
He reflected on the festival’s beginnings, despite naysayers who said a winter festival in Utah to showcase independent movies that arrived without benefit of trailers or commercial prospects could never make it.
“This is about diversity. This is about something that hadn’t been done and the audience will choose,” said Redford. “The nice thing is we’re still here and diversity has proven to be commercial.”