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Redford keeping Sundance small

PARK CITY, Utah–The success that has been achieved by the Sundance Film Festival has been the main topic on most people’s lips here, including those of Sundance topper Robert Redford, who maintained that he is adamantly against expanding the size of the festival just because it has caught on in such a big way. “I don’t want to increase just to increase,” he insisted.

While arguing, as he has for years, that Park City urgently needs to build a state-of-the-art theater that would serve as a central showcase for the festival , Redford revealed that, even in the face of attendance that increases by 30% annually, “We’re not considering expanding. That will probably be a controversial point. But when you start expanding on something, you run the risk of losing quality,” he told a packed press conference at his Sundance compound on Saturday.

“I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from expanding the festival because I think it serves the filmmakers pretty well. If it goes much bigger than this, you begin to lose control,” Redford said.

Pressure to expand comes from what the invasion of some 5,000 film people during 10 days does to a resort town the size of Park City: Accommodations and restaurants are jammed; almost all screenings are sold out by showtime, if not well before; and a festival staff that has remained the same size is expected to serve far more participants.

At this year’s fest, which kicked off Thursday night with the U.S. premiere of Mike Newell’s amiable, if unexciting, Irish kids adventure pic “Into the West ,” the first weekend resembled in intensity the second weekends of fests gone by.

Redford launched his press confab by providing background on the current situation, telling how, against the advice of many, he had taken over an ailing local fest 10 years ago and turned it into an exhibition platform for independent filmmakers, a move he saw as an ideal complement to the development work done at the Sundance screenwriting and directing labs.

After some difficult times, “Attendance and participation increased, and when the mainstream industry realized there was financial profit possible here, that started the ball rolling,” Redford said.

“The fact that agents’ attendance has increased just speaks to financial success, that there’s something to be bought and discovered,” he explained. “I think Hollywood comes here for a very clear reason–they come to discover talent they think will be profitable, or they come to buy films they think will be profitable.”

As far as the independent film movement is concerned, Redford opined, “We’re out of a drought right about now, there’s a lot of interest. I think the festival has helped that a lot.”

Indies, he ventured, “represent an industry that never goes bust. It comes close. But because of the narrowing of the main part of the industry, that opens up the other part of the industry, which is diversity, which is what independent filmmaking is all about.”

Redford professed to be very aware of the frequently heard point that excitement generated at the Sundance fest and among critics for indie films often doesn’t translate into B.O. success with the public.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Variety, Redford followed up on what Sundance might be able to do to ameliorate this situation, as expanded audience exposure and promotion would seem to be the remaining logical steps.

“It’s a question of Sundance becoming a bigger name, to gain its own imprimatur to where we’re recognized enough outside the film industry. I don’t want to take on the responsibility of taking this festival to other cities,” Redford said, “but part of our idea is that selected pieces of the festival from Park City could travel, like a Freedom Train, across the country.

“But we can’t afford it, we need built-in support from those cities that would play it.” In the past, Sundance has presented a pared-down version of the fest in Tokyo, a venture that costs $ 200,000.

For American cities, Sundance would offer a selected group of films, accompanied by the filmmakers. Redford figures that such a venture could be under way within two or three years.

The well-known liberal filmmaker also advanced cautious hope for the new administration in Washington, if only because, after “a lot of abuse over the last 12 years of human rights, the economy and the environment, just stopping it will change it. It will create a new energy.”

On the film front, Redford guessed that audiences will see significantly more work from blacks, women and other minorities not often represented onscreen until recently. “What will emerge in independent film is a counter-reaction against what’s going on.”

Redford privately expressed cognizance of the dangers of not expanding Sundance to accommodate the apparent demand. “By keeping the festival under control, we may be making its demise. By not expanding with the need, we may be charting its demise. If it’s to continue, it should, but some ideas last only 10 years.”

He also asserted, “The relationship between Sundance and Hollywood is not clearly understood. The New YorkTimes recently called us the last stop before Hollywood. But we’re not. Nor are we anti-Hollywood. We’re a bridge.”

As for his own career, Redford has emerged with a flurry of activity from a five-year period during which he “lost a lot of career time” concentrating on Sundance. Having enjoyed B.O. successes as a director, with “A River Runs Through It,” and as an actor, with “Sneakers,” Redford toplines the spring release “Indecent Proposal,” and will shortly decide upon his next project.

As a director, he is developing the Paul Attanasio script “Quiz Show,” about the 1950s TV scandals, and “The Thief of Time,” one of several adaptations of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo detective novels Redford’s company is planning.

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