Redford launches fest at inaugural screening

PARK CITY – It was the calm before the storm at the Sundance Film Festival’s opening Thursday night, mainly because stormy weather — and dense fog — delayed many execs’ flights.

The conditions even knocked out power at the Eccles Theater until a half-hour before Don Roos’ “Happy Endings” was set to kick off the fest. Generators were brought in and the screening went off without a hitch.

Last year, the Eccles was a madhouse when the surf docu “Riding Giants” opened the fest, with some, including rocker Perry Farrell, turned away at the door. Crowd control was not a problem for Roos’ “Endings,” but indeed some fireworks went on inside the cinema.

On the same day President Bush made his inaugural address for a second term, Sundance honcho Robert Redford took the opportunity to make a statement of his own.

“We’re living in a world which seems to be spinning madly with fear and confusion,” he said. “And, depending on your political point of view, is chaotic, divisive, fearful, unstable or perfect. Sundance is about different voices in film which reflect more accurately the world we live in.”

Redford compared the whirlwind fest, which runs through Jan. 30, to a “bullet train,” while also praising the event’s new World Cinema section and its commitment to diversity.

Sundance is “really about allowing the audience to find out diversity,” Redford said. “We want to put a new face on America. I don’t like labels, and Sundance doesn’t like labels. It’s offensive that everything was reduced to red and blue states. Sundance stands to refute that, and to break down barriers of gender, race and class. We are defined by the quality of the work.”

The fest’s Geoff Gilmore praised the locals in the audience, saying, “I thank you for putting up with everything that happens, because the population expands from 7,500 to 45,000 overnight.”

Gilmore added that with the brouhaha over corporate interests at the fest, the most important entities are Sundance’s major official sponsors.

Other differences between last year and this year: Whereas “Giants” was available domestically last year, which may have added to the opening night’s buzz, “Endings” is being distributed through Lions Gate Films. However, Lions Gate Intl.’s sales team is offering the pic in overseas territories, and unit co-head Nick Meyer said he expects an uptick in international buyers this year at Sundance.

Roos, whose first feature, “The Opposite of Sex,” made its debut in Park City, praised Lions Gate for its open-mindedness.

“Nobody in town would make (‘Endings’),” he said. The helmer then added the only cut the distrib demanded was a joke about one of Hollywood’s top leading men.

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