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Robert Redford On Growing The Sundance Brand After 29 Years

The Sundance founder talks about the evolution of the film industry and the core mission of Sundance.

Veteran actor/director and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford looks as fit as ever in his St. Moritz sweater and faded jeans at what his colleagues call the “powder keg” moment of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival—opening day, the moment when audiences take over to choose this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, that buzz movie people will be talking about for the rest of the year.

The 76-year-old Sundance figurehead stops to pose for the inevitable fan photo and talk to the Hewlett-Packard (HP) staffers who led the design work on the HP-sponsored Sundance House, the festival’s retro sleek, Mad Men-inspired Main Street venue for panels and receptions.

Redford, like the festival he created, is forever young, even though he apologizes for a damaged eardrum that forces him to lean closer to hear my question about how the Sundance brand has changed over 29 years of festivals and what it means today.

“Well, the brand has not changed in terms of its purpose but it’s changed in terms of its size,” Redford says. “It has grown way beyond what I ever imagined but the purpose has remained the same, which is creating opportunities for new voices to be heard in independent film and that can be expanded into other art forms.”

Earlier in the afternoon, further up Main Street on the stage of the Egyptian Theatre with John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, and Keri Putnam, Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, Redford emphasizes all the changes that are reshaping the film industry from DIY distribution models and cloud financing to digital fan communities. And while some see it as a challenge, he says that he and his Sundance team embrace it.

“Change affects artists,” he adds. “It will create more possibilities so we just kind of ride with it and that’s our purpose in terms of the brand.”

Park City, Utah

Redford revisits talking points before leaving including the diversity of storytelling in the festival’s 119 feature-length films, a commitment for a sophomore edition of Sundance London in the spring, and his admiration of the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas and its mix of film, music, and technology.

However, no matter how much Redford would love to replicate what SXSW has done with SXSW Interactive and bring the startup community to Sundance, there’s simply no room for it in a small ski resort town that’s already “busting at the seams.”

Then, how much longer will Park City matter as Sundance steadily moves into the digital landscape?

“I don’t know, that’s too far out for me to predict,” Redford adds before leaving. “I can only tell you that we’ll be here.”

[Image: Flickr users Red Touch Media, and Ken Lund]

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