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Old 01-15-09, 11:49 PM
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Redford looks back at Sundance with eye to future

Redford looks back at Sundance with eye to future
Thu Jan 15, 2009 7:24pm EST
By Bob Tourtellotte

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival opens its 25th edition on Thursday with founder Robert Redford hoping for a cultural shift in the arts and embracing new forms of distribution like the Internet to escape a gloomy industry outlook.

Sundance, the top event for U.S. movies made outside Hollywood's major studios, starts on Thursday night with the premiere of clay-animation comedy "Mary and Max," but Redford told reporters at an earlier news conference he was focused more on the future than the past 25 years.

The actor used his fame and fortune to found the Sundance Institute for filmmaking, which in turn put its brand on the Sundance festival starting in 1985.

Despite its growth from an event with hundreds of film lovers to one that attracts tens of thousands of fans, major stars, a crush of media and corporate sponsors looking to sell products, Redford said Sundance remains "a festival of discovery" for new talent and new voices in world cinema.

This year's Sundance has been overshadowed by the gloomy economy, but the number of films screened remains roughly the same at just over 120. While tourism figures show lodging bookings are down about 6 percent from last year, organizers say festival ticket sales are up. Official numbers won't be compiled until after the event ends January 25.

Hollywood film executives, talent agents and others have told Reuters they are bringing 5 to 10 percent fewer staff, but many of them are lower-level employees who don't attend the screenings. Sundance organizers say it appears fewer companies have come to Park City hawking their wares.

"I always believed they would exhaust themselves, and I think that's beginning to happen," Redford said, alluding to companies he called "ambush marketers."

He also saw the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as a positive, despite the fact it comes smack in the middle of Sundance and, as a result, has caused fewer media to caravan into this mountain town east of Salt Lake City.

Redford hoped the Obama administration would be far more friendly to the arts, and if that were to happen it would be good for the future of independent cinema.

Independent films had a tough 2008. Several distributors, such as Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent Pictures, ceased to exist or radically changed business plans.

The quality and range of independent movies has improved with titles such as "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno," but with that has come more independent films competing to reach theaters and revenues per film have fallen.

Still, Redford saw hope that independent filmmakers would find new ways to make movies and reach fans, beginning with Internet-based distribution.

"Art," he said. "will always find a way."

(Editing by Eric Beech)
"If you judge people, you don't have time to love them." -- Mother Teresa
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