Festival veteran upped to director

Ending a period of uncertainty after the departure of Geoff Gilmore, the Sundance Film Festival elevated programmer John Cooper, a 20-year Sundance vet, to the post of fest director.

His duties include spearheading the slate of the fest as well as overseeing content, online and the fest’s range of partnerships. The Park City, Utah, event had just celebrated its 25th edition in January when Gilmore announced he was leaving for an exec post at Tribeca Enterprises.

Since joining the Sundance Institute in 1989, Cooper has engineered a range of programs to help the fest expand. They include the New Frontier on Main, a combo of contemporary art, technology and film; distribution of shorts via iTunes, Netflix and the Xbox 360; and the Sundance Institute at BAM series.

Cooper also initiated a national program to expose 18 arthouse theaters to Sundance films and filmmakers.

“Innovative technology and global accessibility are making filmmaking wildly creative while, at the same time, traditional funding and distribution models are being challenged,” Cooper said. “Never has our festival been more relevant.”

The new director “brings to the position an infectious enthusiasm as well as a deep understanding of the Sundance brand and culture,” founder Robert Redford said.

Gilmore’s departure for Gotham, announced without any notion of a succession plan in Park City, set indie tongues wagging about changes at Sundance. But the programming team, especially Cooper and fellow Sundance vet Trevor Groth, quickly emerged as likely internal candidates for the top job.

The only question became when the fest would quiet the speculation and officially name its new leader.

Helped by fair weather and the galvanizing inauguration of President Obama, January’s anniversary edition was one of the most successful Sundances. A lot of fest regulars said the program was stronger than it had been in some time and voiced confidence in an internal replacement for Gilmore, who was already then rumored to be looking to exit.

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