“I’m pretty encouraged right now,” said Redford during the festival’s opening press conference on Thursday afternoon. “What it’s doing is bringing forth more opportunities for women and more opportunities for women in film to have their voices heard and do their own projects.”
Redford said that the industry had been dominated by men, but he predicted that things are changing as women push back against harassment in the workplace and demand to be paid the same as their male counterparts.
“It’s changing the order of things so women have a stronger voice,” he said. “Now I think it’s more even handed. The role for women is to exercise their voices. The role for men is to listen and let women’s voices be heard and think about it.”
A lot has happened since the last time Redford appeared before journalists in the snow-covered mountains of Park City, Utah. In October, dozens of women came forward to accuse indie mogul Harvey Weinstein of harassment and abuse. Since those allegations surfaced, Hollywood has been roiled by claims against several prominent figures — it’s a list of alleged harassers that includes Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, and Dustin Hoffman. Sundance has taken its own steps to make a safer space. The festival has created a hotline for attendees who are victims of misconduct. It’s also publicizing a code of conduit that stresses creating a festival “free of harassment, discrimination, sexism and threatening or disrespectful behavior.”
Redford was joined on stage by Keri Putnam, the Sundance Institute’s executive director, and John Cooper, the head of the festival. His colleagues shared his sense of optimism that change was possible, but they want the allegations to lead to deeper conversations about institutional bias and discrimination.
“It’s about more than a few individual men,” said Putnam “It’s about the underlying systems of power.”
Putnam said that people need to ask tough questions about why female filmmakers struggle to get financing for their movies and why studios don’t employ as many women at top executive levels.
For his part, Cooper said he hoped that this year’s festival will be “ground zero” for some of these conversations.”
The Sundance leaders faced their own tough questions about the festival’s relationship with Harvey Weinstein. The producer and mogul was a major presence at the festival, where he bought films such as “Fruitvale Station” and “In the Bedroom.” In 1997, he summoned the actress Rose McGowan to his hotel room, where he allegedly assaulted her.
“We stand for diversity and creativity and a lot of things that are in direct opposition to that behavior,” Putnam said. “Of course these things sickened us that happened during the festival. It was nothing we were aware of.”
Redford said Weinstein was “a moment in time.”
“I think we will move past that,” he said. “I don’t think he will stop the show.”
The conversation during the free-flowing hour-long talk encompassed other political topics. It also touched upon the Trump administration’s contentious relationship with the media and the president’s fondness for labeling coverage he dislikes, “fake news.” It’s a subject of special meaning for Redford, who helped make news-gathering sexy with his turn as Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men.”
“Journalism is a big deal for me,” said Redford. “It always seems to be under threat periodically…because journalism is our means of getting to the truth, getting to the truth is harder and harder in this climate.”
Redford said he is particularly alarmed by the cries of “fake news” emanating from the White House. “That becomes threatening to the proper use of journalism,” he said. “You want journalism to represent the truth.”
“It makes it harder for the public to understand what’s going on,” he added.
Watch the press conference below.