Founder says Sundance may outgrow city

PARK CITY — As the Sundance Film Festival advances into its third decade, even Sundance Institute topper Robert Redford has begun to ponder the “too muchness” of the most publicized and industry-intense film festival in the U.S.

“I have no worries that we’re going to run dry of filmmakers and ideas,” Redford said as the fest got under way Friday with a slate of 35 films and programs. With the streets outside his Zoom restaurant jammed with vehicles and pedestrians and tow truck operators removing cars from illegal parking zones, Redford speculated, “If the festival continues to grow, it may outgrow Park City.”

With Sundance now attracting 45,000 visitors during its 10-day run, Redford cited the two evident but increasingly pressing problems faced by the fest — problems facing the independent film world as a whole. “The first is population control. There are so many people who want to make films, it’s hard to know where there’s room for them all. The biggest problem this year is all the ‘special’ people who want ‘special’ attention, who want tickets at the last minute. When we say no, they get pissed off and start threatening to throw rocks at us.

“I really believe that nobody here should get more attention than anyone else, and I won’t let this become a festival of limousines and red carpets. But there is only so much you can do to control the rest of the stuff,” Redford acknowledged.

“Second, where will the films be shown? We just don’t know about Park City’s ability to contain the stretch,” Redford admitted. “We will hit a max. But then this whole area will grow, well outside Park City, and the festival could possibly follow the natural development of the area.

“The other option is to stop the growth of the festival. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we have to start thinking about it. It could be that, in five or 10 years, we could just stop the growth,” he said. “As long as we can maintain the quality and keep things a little on the edge, I don’t think we can go anywhere else.”

This year, Sundance has expanded into an international competition while continuing to stress documentaries as much as narrative cinema. Having long been committed to docs, Redford takes particular satisfaction in the commercial viability such pics have enjoyed recently and intends to be further involved in extending the reach of nonfiction.

Given that the fest survived numerous growing pains to achieve its current state of excitable maturity, Redford is relieved that it now demands less of his personal attention. “The Sundance Institute at large still takes up a lot of time. The festival used to take up an enormous amount of time. I don’t get so involved in the details now.

“One thing I do have to keep an eye on is the Sundance Channel, which is for profit, and the way it intersects with the festival, which is nonprofit,” Redford said. “The other parts I get involved in are the design and shape of the overall program, fostering the connection between the June Sundance Lab and the festival, and spending time with the filmmakers.”

One project Redford has been talking about for the past couple of years, a follow-up to his early-’70s classic “The Candidate” with his character Bill McKay now president of the U.S., is still in the works. “I wanted to wait until we saw how the election came out, but I still want to make it,” promised Redford.

More imminently, he intends to direct, produce and act in an adaptation of Mark Gordon’s book “Nobody Knows My Name.”

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