Movie-making was the center of attention as the 2017 Sundance Film Festival kicked off Thursday in Park City, Utah, but politics wasn't far behind. At the traditional opening day press conference, there was heightened anticipation to hear founder Robert Redford’s thoughts on the eve of a new, very controversial, president assuming office.
Redford, who at 80 still appears ageless,was joined by Sundance alums, Texas filmmaker David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and Sydney Freeland (Drunktown's Finest), in a new format to discuss filmmaking, which led into political allusion as Lowery stated, “As a filmmaker you have a podium and it is important to say things that are worth saying in the context of current events.”
Sundance director John Cooper and Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam joined Redford to discuss, films, the environment, Sundance, and yes, Donald Trump.
Redford looking and sounding more youthful than in recent years, dressed in jeans, black jersey with tousled styled hair, was asked about self-censorship under the Trump administration. He seemed philosophical and wise, saying that “Presidents come and go. The pendulum swings. It probably always will. Sundance stays away from politics and opts to focus on the stories. We don’t play advocacy but we do support the filmmakers and their stories. If story tellers tell political stories, we support that.”
Even so, politics couldn't help but be at the center of attention against the backdrop of Friday’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. On Saturday, comedian Chelsea Handler will lead a Women’s March on Main in Park City, mirroring the much larger march in Washington on the same day to protest the new president's policies toward women, and will be joined by Aisha Tyler, Connie Britton, Benjamin Bratt, and Maria Bello.
In response to a question about dark times and the fear that many artists have regarding the new administration, Redford said in his low-key way, “You want to look for where the light is going to come. In this current dialogue, it looks like a lot could be taken away. I think this could galvanize people."
This year’s Sundance Film Festival will show 188 feature and short film selections culled from nearly 14,000 submissions from 32 countries. Sundance, always the trailblazer, is offering “The New Climate,” an entire program devoted to environmental change and its consequences. The series kicked off with the opening night film, An Inconvenient Sequel, which follows up on Al Gore’s 2006 award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and includes 14 documentaries, short films and virtual reality experiences. Sunday Al Gore, Robert Redford and others will lead a Power of Story panel discussion, which will be streamed live at www.Sundance.org.
Gore received thunderous applause and two standing ovations when the film, which details the disasters brought about by climate change, premiered Thursday night. "We will win," Gore told the crowd. "No one person can stop this movement. We want this movie to recruit others."
Sundance is well known for its documentaries, and this year will not disappoint with a dizzying array of topics, including the Grateful Dead, chronic fatigue, Jon Benet Ramsey, Hulk Hogan, surfer Laird Hamilton, Russian doping and Aleppo.
Perhaps the most sought after ticket this year is to Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time, which will be shown three days after his inauguration and will feature previously unseen footage from the primaries through the dramatic election night victory. For those who can’t nab tickets, it will premiere on Showtime February 4.
I’m particularly interested in a few dramas by old favorites of mine. Shirley MacLaine stars in The Last Word, about a successful aging business woman who hires a writer (Amanda Seyfried) to craft a story about her life with funny and poignant consequences. Redford, with Rooney Mara, stars in a sci-fi flick The Discovery that proves the existence of the after-life. The trailer is a little creepy but who turns down the opportunity to watch Redford, especially since he has announced his intention to retire from acting.
Another on my radar screen is Where is Kyra, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland which, based on the description of a desperate woman meeting an equally desperate man, could be really good or simply awful.
As always, you can count on a multitude of stars, directors, agents, and studio execs to migrate to Park City for the next 10 days. Some of the stars rumored to be gracing the snowy (it is expected to snow all weekend) streets of Park City include John Legend, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Elle Fanning, Holly Hunter, Carey Mulligan and Cate Blanchett.
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