PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival, the premier showcase for domestic and international independent filmmakers, kicked off Thursday. But at the opening press conference, all anyone wanted to talk about was how Sundance founder and legendary actor Robert Redford was snubbed by the Oscars.
An early favorite for a nomination for his tour de force performance in All is Lost, a harrowing tale of a man stranded in the Indian Ocean in which he is the film's lone actor, Redford addressed the issue head-on before a standing-room-only crowd of reporters, just hours after the Academy Award nominations were announced.
"Change is inevitable. You either resist it or ride the wave of change. Sundance has changed to reflect stuff that we could not have envisioned a decade ago."
"I do not want my non-nomination to get in the way of the Sundance Film Festival," he said. "I'm very proud of the film — an independent film that was stripped down with no voice over, no special effects. This gave me a chance to go back to my roots."
"The fact is the film didn't become mainstream. You have to remember that Hollywood is a business. I have nothing but respect for it. These (Oscar nominated) films have to be heavily campaigned. My film suffered from little or no distribution to help cross over into mainstream."
In response to further questioning, the 77-year-old actor explained that the only time he saw his film was at the Cannes Film Festival. It was hard for him to watch it because the film was so physically demanding and it made him feel like he was living through it again.
While Redford was not nominated for an Academy Award this time around (he has a best directing Oscar for the 1981 movie, Ordinary People, and was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2002 but has never won an acting Oscar), Sundance film programmers were pleased that four of the five documentaries nominated for this year's Oscars premiered at last year's Sundance festival.
But despite the success of documentary's like Twenty Feet From Stardom, many films never make it to Sundance — only three percent of entries this year were accepted. One of the central themes this go-around is how failure is crucial to the creative process. Houston native Wes Anderson’s debut feature Bottle Rocket, which was notably rejected when submitted to Sundance in 1995, will be screened as a nod to the festival's own programmers who have made their share of mistakes.
Redford acknowledged that it hasn't always been smooth sailing for the festival, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. "We tried things that didn't work and it gets harder every year. Change is inevitable. You either resist it or ride the wave of change. Sundance has changed to reflect stuff that we could not have envisioned a decade ago."
This year's lineup seems darker than usual. Among the films that have caught my attention are Happy Valley, the story of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky's arrest and trial; Life Itself, which follows film critic Roger Ebert during the last stages of his illness: and Mitt, a highly anticpated documentary on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that has already been purchased by Netflix.
But the great thing about Sundance, which continues through Jan. 26, is surprises always happen on the screen when you least expect them.