Sundance Film Festival 2013

Cold temperatures, hot films & Robert Redford kick off a sunnier Sundance Film Festival

Cold temperatures, hot films & Robert Redford kick off a sunnier Sundance Film Festival

Robert Redford, Sundance Film Festival, January 2013
Robert Redford talks to the press on opening day of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Jane Howze
Sundance Film Festival, sign, January 2013
A sign heralds the start of the Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Jane Howze
A Teacher, Sundance Film Festival, January 2013
A scene from the made-in-Texas film, A Teacher. This year's festival emphasizes relationships, although there's still a lot of sex. ATeacherFilm.com
Robert Redford, Sundance Film Festival, January 2013
Sundance Film Festival, sign, January 2013
A Teacher, Sundance Film Festival, January 2013

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival—the granddaddy of all film festivals—kicked off its annual 10-day run Thursday in this normally sleepy ski town 30 miles from Salt Lake City. In normal times, the population is no more than 10,000 people, but during Sundance it swells to more than 60,000 who attend screenings in four Utah cities.  

And it is not just the filmgoers and the celebrities who attend, but just about anyone in the business of filming, buying and distributing movies (or who hopes to be) is here. 

Accompanying them are a slew of pop-up nightclubs (Tao, Wynn Las Vegas and Hyde LA), gifting suites, retail outlets and concert venues. Even ultra-hip Uber car service has set up shop here. In other words, Park City on the opening weekend of Sundance is the hottest, buzziest place on earth.

 Park City on the opening weekend of Sundance is the hottest, buzziest place on earth. 

This year’s festival opened under clear blue skies with temperatures not expected to get above freezing during the frenzied opening weekend that transports Hollywood to Park City. 

As is the custom, the festival begins with an annual state of the festival press conference with Robert Redford, who founded the festival in 1981 as a venue for independent film makers. That first year, the Festival showed a couple of dozen films.

This year, Sundance is screening 119 feature films from 32 countries, culled from about 4,000 submissions, in venues that include local cinemas, as well as temporary theaters set up in the library, a synagogue, a hotel ballroom and a tennis club.

Interestingly, this year, of the 119 film-makers, 51 are first timers at Sundance. 

Redford talks change

Redford arrived at the Egyptian Theatre nursing a cold and wearing what looked like the same sweatshirt and shoes he sported at last year’s press conference. Accompanied by festival director John Cooper and Sundance Institute director Keri Putnam, Redford started by saying, “What is on my mind is change. There are three ways of dealing with it. Some say it is inevitable; some accept it, and roll along; and the third group says, ‘how can we take advantage of change?’ 

"That is where I am and that is where Sundance is.”    

Redford said that Sundance has always tried to look down the road to anticipate the future. For example, in 1988 and 1989, once Sundance had “survived,” Redford said they were committed to creating a platform to support documentaries and short films.  “We have to continue to think about what is coming,” he said.

Redford resisted the opportunity to make a political statement when asked about whether Hollywood could take any responsibility for the violence in Sandy Hook.

Redford resisted the opportunity to make a political statement when asked about whether Hollywood could take any responsibility for the violence in Sandy Hook. 

“In 1981, just as the Festival was getting started, President Reagan was shot. At that time there was a call for a dialogue on gun control. Thirty years later, it is up again,”  he said.

Cooper jumped in and said that audiences will evaluate the film Valentine Road about a California school shooting differently than they might have two months ago. 

When asked about the group that claims Sundance is not in line with the values of Utahans, Redford seemed slightly exasperated and commented that “this comes up every year. The narrowest mind barks the loudest. There is a wide spectrum of choices. It is a free country. Look at the Constitution.” 

Putnam added that the Festival generates $80 million in 10 days for Utah businesses. Enough said. 

What to look for this year?

The Arrival of Women Filmmakers

In what festival programmers say is a Sundance first, there are an equal number of male and female directors in the 16-film U.S. Dramatic Competition category, ranging from Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt, to Liz Garcia’s The Lifeguard, featuring Kristen Bell, Francesca Gregorini’s Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, starring Jessica Biel, Jerusha Hess’s Austenland with Keri Russell, Lake Bell’s In a World, also starring the actress-director, and Stacie Passon’s Concussion.

 In what festival programmers say is a Sundance first, there are an equal number of male and female directors in the 16-film U.S. Dramatic Competition category. 

Sundance is Sunnier

After years and years of the juxtaposition of the partying electric good time atmosphere against the backdrop of the darkest most depressing movies imaginable, Sundance is actually featuring comedies.

This year there are 14 comedies and comedic dramas, which is much larger than years past when if you could name three comedies each year that would be a lot. Gathering lots of buzz is Don Jon’s Addiction about a pornography-obsessed Lothario, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson, which opens Friday night. 

Sexuality versus Sex

Sundance has never shied away from sexually explicit movies.  Remember Sex, Lies & Videotape?

Redford noted that when he started his film career in the '60s, sex was connected to romance. He commented one of the most notable changes that has taken place as the films and the Festival itself has evolved is that “we now look at sex in a different context—it is about relationships.” 

That complexity will be explored in no fewer than 13 different films—from both the female and male perspective—some creepy and some less so. One of the hottest (pardon the pun) films will be Lovelace, in which Amanda Seyfried stars as porn-star-turned-anti-porn crusader Linda Lovelace. 

Others include A Teacher, about a Texas high school educator who begins an affair with one of her students, and Two Mothers, starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as lifelong friends who begin affairs with each other's sons.

Music in Films; Music on the street: Music Everywhere

Sundance has added more music over the years, including free night concerts and panel discussions about the intersection of films and music as Sundance has increasingly over the years featured music as both the star and a theme of its films. 

Four such buzzworthy films are opening-night Twenty Feet from Stardom, which explores the world of backup singers; former Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl’s Sound City; Muscle Shoals; and History of the Eagles Part 1

The Sound City premiere on Friday will be paired with the  biggest musical event in Sundance history, featuring Grohl’s Sound City Players — Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Foo Fighters and all surviving members of Nirvana for what should be a historical concert.

As the press conference wrapped up after roughly 40 minutes, John Cooper stated, “I feel like I’m sitting on powder-keg of talent. I just want to get this started!” 

Me too, John.  Me too.

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