Robert Redford: Sundance reflects the 99 percent

Published January 19, 2012 11:46 am

Founder says indie films show "what people are really living with."
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In spite of the celebrities and corporate shilling that fill Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford believes Sundance's heart is with the 99 percent.

"We show stories of what people in America are really dealing with, and really living with, against a consequence of having a government that's let them down," Redford said this week, in advance of Thursday's opening of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. "People can come and say, 'God, at least we're seeing how people are really living in America, and what they're up against.' We square away on the 99 percent."

As the Sundance Film Festival kicks off, Redford pointed to the films that will play in Park City — and at venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance Resort — as teaching tools for examining America's economic, political and social problems.

"The documentaries, in particular — so much can be learned from them," Redford said in an interview this week with The Tribune. "In a way, because of the TV pundits and all that technology has created, I think documentaries become a new source of truth. It's almost like a new form of investigative journalism."

The documentaries debuting at Sundance hit on some of the pressing issues in America: the decline of the industrial Midwest in "Detropia"; the problems with the health-care system in "Escape Fire"; the nation's hunger problem in "Finding North"; the unintended consequences of the War on Drugs in "The House I Live In"; the influence of debt on society in "Payback"; the collapse of the economy in "The Queen of Versailles"; and the disparity between corporate income and corporate taxation in "We're Not Broke."

"It's no secret that obviously these are tough times, economically, not only in our country but in the world," said Redford, founder of the nonprofit Sundance Institute. "And I think it's pretty clear, also, that our current system of government has never been more plagued with paralysis. What should be a bipartisan situation with Democrats and Republicans has been compromised and frozen."

Redford said he was impressed with the nationwide spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement and sees parallels to the social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s.

He saw the Occupy protests firsthand last fall when he was in Vancouver, B.C., filming his latest movie, "The Company You Keep." In the film — which Redford, who directed, describes as "a very low-budget, independent film" — the actor also plays a fugitive Weather Underground radical who has been in hiding for 30 years.

"Halfway through, this Occupy Wall Street thing happened and spread all over the country, and it kind of fit right into the story we were telling," Redford said. As the protests spread into Canada, Redford found himself shooting near the Occupy Vancouver site.

"I'm all for it," Redford said of the protests, "considering the reality of what Wall Street did to this country, and what government's alliance to Wall Street has done to the political system. … I think that the collective desire to cry out for change, for social reforms, at a time when it's desperately needed, is a very good thing. And I'm in support of it."

That kind of protesting is likely to show up at the festival. Members of Occupy Park City have discussed possible demonstrations or other actions while the international spotlight is shining on Sundance.

"We're probably going to get on the streets, more than anything, and just talk to people," said Tyler Galovich, one of Occupy Park City's organizers. They plan some "guerrilla theater," as well.

Meanwhile, two Los Angeles filmmakers are working separately to use the Occupy brand at Sundance. D.J. Viola is mounting Occupy Sundance, a do-it-yourself film festival for movies that were rejected from Sundance and the offshoot Slamdance Film Festival.

Viola's short film, "South," was rejected from Sundance — as were, by his reckoning, 99 percent of the shorts and features that were submitted. So Viola is taking over Cisero's Ristorante, at 306 Main St. in Park City, setting up personal DVD players so visitors can choose from a menu of films to watch. At last count, Viola said, at least 50 films had been submitted.

The event, conveniently located up the street from the Egyptian Theatre and across the street from Slamdance's headquarters at the Treasure Mountain Inn, runs noon to 8 p.m. from today through Jan. 29. Despite the politically charged name, "it's not a cause," Viola said. "It's just an offering."

The Occupy Sundance Film Festival, on the other hand, will screen movies about the Occupy Wall Street movement, said organizer Tim Schwartz, an independent filmmaker who spent two months in New York filming the protests at Zuccotti Park.

That event starts Saturday and runs through Tuesday, Jan. 24, 7:30 to 10:30 each night, at the Park City Yoga Studio, 1662 Bonanza Drive, Park City.

Schwartz hopes the focus on the Occupy movement at Sundance will raise issues about corporate behavior — including corporate sponsorship of events like Sundance. "I'm not necessarily calling them out, but starting the discussion," Schwartz said.

Redford said he appreciates the corporations that sponsor the festival and the institute, but he makes it clear to them what their money is buying.

"I say to them, 'It's wonderful to have your support, so long as you don't intrude on our mission,' " Redford said. "It means the people that are sponsors are supporting something they believe in. But that something is independence."


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Sundance Film Festival

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, with two screenings of world premiere films each at the Eccles Theatre and the Park City Library Center — and a program of short films at the Egyptian Theatre — all in Park City.

The festival continues through Jan. 29 in Park City and at venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort in Utah County.

For program and ticket information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festival. Faces of Sundance

As Utah's premier film festival opens, The Tribune profiles the volunteers, business owners and students who are immersing themselves in Sundance. Read the stories at sltrib.com/neighborhood or see the links above.