Sundance: Robert Redford Talks Hollywood’s Diversity Problem, Dodges White Oscars Questions

Robert Redford kicked off his annual Sundance press conference on Thursday afternoon by talking about the state of the independent film world and new distribution models that have upended the system.

But didn’t have much to add about the controversy surrounding this year’s all-white Oscar nominations. “I’m not into Oscars,” Redford said. “I’m not into that.”

A few minutes later, he tried to clarify his response. “I see the headline—I don’t like the Oscars,” Redford joked. “That’s for Donald Trump to say. What I mean is I’m not focused on that part. For me, it’s about the work.”

Redford talked about why he started Sundance 32 years ago, as a place to find new voices. “First of all, I’d like to straighten something out,” Redford said. “There’s a tendency to label things and subjugate ideas. I’m not against the mainstream. I’m happily part of that.” He wanted to offer the Sundance crowd an alternative to the mainstream tentpoles. “Audiences were coming up here, Utah, to see things they couldn’t see in the marketplace.”

He stressed the importance of Sundance as a place to launch documentaries—among this year’s more prominent titles are “Under the Gun” (about gun rights in the United States) and “Weiner” (about the disgraced congressman’s failed bid to run as mayor of New York). “On a personal level, I’ve always been a huge fan of documentaries,” he said. He wanted the festival to serve as “a platform to elevate docs and see they are much closer to narrative films.”

For the second year in a row, only white actors were nominated in the four acting category at the Oscars, which has prompted calls for a boycott from Spike Lee as well as Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. When asked about the nominations, Redford addressed the topic of diversity in Hollywood obliquely. “Diversity comes out of the word independence. It’s a word I operate from principally for most of my life. Diversity comes out of it. It’s an automatic thing. If you’re independent minded, you’re going to do things different than the common form; that’s something we’re genuinely proud of—how we show diversity because it’s tied to the fundamental word of independent.” He added that it’s up to the artsts to explore the theme. “We don’t take a position of advocacy.”

Redford also spoke to the challenges facing the independent film world. “It’s tough for films in general. There are threats to distribution. You’ve got streaming. You’ve got online. You’ve got Netflix.”

He was blunt about the state of art house cinema, saying, “independent film is not in a good place…it survives because it has value, but it’s always been tough.” Financing has always been hard to secure, he noted.

Asked about how Redford planned to spend the week and a half long festival, the notoriously private Sundance founder was tight-lipped.

“I’m not going to tell ya,” he said.

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