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Robert Redford Kicks Off Sundance: ‘Television is Advancing Faster than Filmmaking’

As the movie industry continues to struggle to keep up with new streams of competition, Robert Redford talked about how Sundance 2015 will represent “change,” a word that he used repeatedly at the press conference that kicked off the festival.

“I believe change is inevitable,” Redford said, talking to reporters in Park City on Thursday afternoon. “I think we can see there are some people that go with change. There are others that don’t, because they are afraid of change.”

Redford noted how Sundance, which he started 31 years ago, championed filmmakers who may not have otherwise found a way into Hollywood. “The idea that the festival was meant to use change to underline diversity,” Redford said. “Diversity is something I think moves the ball, and it’s something I think we represent.”

The festival’s director John Cooper, who joined Redford on the panel with executive director Keri Putnam, mentioned how Ava DuVernay won best director at Sundance for her 2012 film “Middle of Nowhere.” DuVernay then went on to direct “Selma,” which landed a best picture nomination this year.

Redford noted the differences between the television and film businesses. “I started in television,” Redford said, answering an audience question about the two mediums. “I’m a big fan of television. Mainstream film is shrinking; it’s harder and harder for an artist to find their way in the film business.”

“My impression is television is advancing faster than major filmmaking,” he added.

Redford spoke passionately about how the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks shook creative communities around the world. “I think there is an attack on freedom of expression in many places,” Redford said. “That was a sad event. It was a shocking event, but I have a hunch it was a bit of a waking event.” He said that at Sundance, “Freedom of expression is fundamental to us.” He said the festival has never shied away from showing controversial films.

Redford talked about how the business has dramatically transformed over the years. “I was fortunate as an actor for hire to be in the mainstream,” he said. “That’s all there was in the ’60s and ’70s.” He said that in the old studio system, he could make big-budget movies and then cross over to smaller films, as long as they had a budget under $1 million or $2 million. But that model no longer exists. “I felt Sundance would be a gap filler,” Redford said. Sundance “was not an insurgency against Hollywood. It was to keep something alive that was shrinking to death.”

Redford said it wasn’t his idea to have one of his films, the drama “A Walk in the Woods,” shown at the festival. “It’s very weird,” he added. “John and I have a relationship where I try to stay out of his business.”

He said he never wanted to be involved in the film selection process to avoid potential conflicts of interest. “I think that would be self-interested, and I don’t want to do it. We all agreed upon it until recently, when John went out of bounds,” Redford joked.

Redford said that he understands filmmakers who struggle to get distribution for their movies. “I’ve had experiences that have been sad,” Redford said. “I’ve done some films that have no distributor. I can relate.”

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