Anyone worried that Robert Redford’s fleeting appearance at the Sundance opening press conference on Thursday morning signaled he was stepping away from the film festival he founded, breathe easy. The Hollywood legend proved the opposite at the opening night screening of Bart Freundlich’s “After the Wedding” at Park City’s Eccles Theater.
Redford gave an impromptu history of the 34-year-old festival, just before Freundlich teed up his latest film starring his wife Julianne Moore, as well as Michelle Williams and Billy Crudup. The familial drama landed laughs for Moore’s crisp portrayal of a female CEO losing control, and tears for Williams’ turn as an isolated woman running from an old mistake.
But first, Redford.
“I didn’t have the space at my place,” Redford said of his Utah ranch, when he conceived the festival in 1985. “It’s further, deeper in the mountains. Not enough space and the closest was Park City. There was only one theater, the Egyptian.”
Redford recalled that first opening night, which was “kind of weird, because there was nobody coming in. I’m standing outside the theater trying to hustle people in, and people were wondering why I was standing out there. That was a tough sell.”
Having Redford remind you of the importance of emerging artistic voices is a dream boost for any film, but “After the Wedding” packed a punch even without the actor’s tacit endorsement. Williams plays Isabel, the head caregiver of an Indian orphanage who has problems with her benefactor, the glossy and distracted media CEO Theresa (Moore). Isabel must travel to New York to secure a new round of funding, which would give tens of thousands of children access to medicine, food, and a life free from child prostitution.
On her mandatory handshake trip, Isabel is invited to the wedding of Theresa’s daughter (Abby Quinn), at the luxurious Long Island spread she shares with artist husband Oscar (Crudup). Once there, it becomes clear there is a deeper history between the group, as secrets and betrayals bubble up like the overflowing glasses of Moet & Chandon imperial that are liberally passed around on trays.
Moore deeply satisfied the Hollywood crowd with her take on a harried corporate queen with a game-changing secret. She makes diva tantrums, martini-swilling and unapologetic privilege seem like the price of being a woman in power with limited control of her future. Williams, on the other hand, drew tears with her subtle but powerful portrayal of a woman taking responsibility for the choices she made in her youth. A series of decisions that impacted several lives over decades.
“After the Wedding” is for sale and is repped by Endeavor Content and Cornerstone Films. The screening counted several buyers in the room including Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, the team from Focus Features, and David Glasser, who just announced the formation of his Ron Burkle-backed shop 101 Studios.
Glasser was dismissed as the COO of The Weinstein Company last year. The indie studio imploded in the midst of sexual harassment and assault allegations against its founder Harvey Weinstein. Glasser, who has denied knowing about Weinstein’s alleged crimes and misdeeds, previously declared his intentions to come to Sundance with an eye towards acquiring films for domestic release. His presence was controversial. “It’s too soon,” one film executive in the theater noted.
The evening continued to Main Street at the Chase Sapphire space, where Moore and Crudup chatted with the rest of the cast and their CAA agent Kevin Huvane.