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Sundance ’17 lands at the intersection of film and politics

First Published      Last Updated Jan 30 2017 09:23 am

Film festival » As Trump’s presidency begins, Redford and other artists talk about their roles in raising issues.

In the final weeks of Barack Obama's presidency, with Donald Trump's inauguration approaching, Robert Redford cast his thoughts back to May 2016, when the 44th president invited the actor to the White House.

Obama is a fan — someone, Redford said, who can quote lines from "Three Days of the Condor" and other movies. Most fans, though, don't have the pull to summon their movie idols to the Oval Office.

After talking for nearly an hour, Redford asked a question of the president: "Is there anything you want from me?"

"He said, 'Yes, there is. … Look, I'll be leaving office soon, and I have two daughters, and I'm very concerned about their future, which means the future of young people. And I think the environment is such an important issue that's being ignored.' "

Obama concluded by asking Redford to join forces. "He said, 'After the dust settles, I would like to move forward and spend some attention on the environment and young people, and I would like your help.' "

Redford's Sundance Film Festival, which starts Thursday night — the last night of Obama's presidency — is working along the same lines. The festival's 2017 edition will kick off a new initiative to focus attention on global climate change.

This initiative, The New Climate, will feature documentaries on the topic, and panel discussions with experts and advocates. The first movie the festival will screen, Thursday at Park City's Eccles Center, is "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power." It's the follow-up to "An Inconvenient Truth," the landmark 2006 documentary in which former Vice President Al Gore presented the case that human-caused climate change is real and getting exponentially worse.

Gore, a friend of Redford's, will be present for Thursday's premiere and a panel discussion the following Sunday.

Climate change, Redford said, "is an issue that should not be polarized through politics. It's an issue that I think should be above politics, because it involves everybody. It involves both sides of the aisle, and to polarize it and divide up is demeaning and debilitating."

Redford also aims to keep Sundance out of the political fray. "We can't advocate, but we can show," he said. "We just let the subject come up through the films. … I've been very careful over the years to not take a position politically, with the festival or the [filmmakers'] labs."

Whether Redford likes it or not, politics and art will be intertwined at this year's festival — and not just because Sundance gets rolling as Trump's administration does.

Many political issues — the environment, the war in Syria, police violence, even the Trump campaign itself — will play out on the screens of Sundance and its upstart rival, the Slamdance Film Festival (whose opening-night film Friday is the water-pollution documentary "What Lies Upstream").

Some political action will spill out onto on the Park City streets. The Women's March on Main, an anti-Trump protest tied to the Women's March on Washington and related events in cities nationwide Saturday, is expected to draw hundreds of people. It will have Sundance star power, with comedian and talk-show host Chelsea Handler signed on as the rally's emcee.

One of the filmmakers who checked "going" on the march's Facebook page is Donna Deitch, who directed the pioneering 1986 lesbian romantic drama "Desert Hearts" (which will screen in a restored print at Park City's Egyptian Theatre on Jan. 24).

"This is a truth-telling moment," Deitch said. "For this many people — men and women and probably a lot of kids — who get out there and march, what they're doing is basically truth-telling."

She cites the old feminist mantra "the personal is political," which she thinks will make a comeback in the age of Trump.

"Now, because we're in a very low time in American politics, that phrase 'the personal is political' is back again, and now applicable to the whole culture," Deitch said this week. "Artists are going to be more motivated than ever before, because there's a real obstruction to justice and humanity in this orange-haired monster."

Another filmmaker planning to march is TV producer and writer Marti Noxon, a longtime show runner on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and creator of Bravo's "Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce." Noxon makes her feature directing debut at Sundance with the anorexia drama "To the Bone."

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How to Sundance

When » Thursday to Jan. 29

Where » Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.

Passes and ticket packages » On sale at http://sundance.org/festivals. Many are sold out, but some are still available.

Individual tickets » Tickets are $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 19-24), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 25-29).

Information » http://sundance.org/festivals