Wirth Watching: Sundance Film Festival

Published 01/20 2014 06:34AM

Updated 01/20 2014 06:43AM

PARK CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - Thirty years ago, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute took over the Sundance Film Festival. As we know, it’s now one of the world's biggest film gatherings.

It actually goes back to 1978 when a couple people thought to show some independent films.

It was called The US Film Festival in its first years, founded on the vision to showcase creative independent films of the era.

In 1980- the festival moved to Park City from Salt Lake in hopes to capture visitors in the resort town. 

It was an ambitious undertaking.... Who would even have imagined 40 thousand would someday crowd into Utah for the festival.

Back in those days, one man watched all the submissions and picked the two dozen or so films to show.

Laury Smith, with the Utah Film Development, said, “Basically, I am a sucker for films that reach me on an emotional or intellectual level and looks good”

Today there are about 12,000 submissions.

Robert Redford was with it all from the beginning as the festival chairperson.

His Sundance Institute rescued the fledgling festival in 1985… a staff of 13 conducted the festival in two Park City heaters.

“I think park city is a good place to have it. Got room for growth. Got to upgrade facilities there,” said Robert Redford.

In 1989, Sundance screened the independent film-- Sex Lies and Videotape and it would never be the same.

Even though the spotlight was now on Sundance as the film world looked for the next hit.  Robert Redford reminded all that Sundance was still dedicated to the independent film maker.

“The tendency is to want to reach out and become the Cannes Film Festival which I think is a big mistake. It’s like opening chain restaurants. Once you do that you lose quality,” said Redford.

The festival changed its name to the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.  Success meant a bigger festival - but also a bigger cost for the Sundance Institute.

“We're not planning on doing anything different. If you look at the programming it is staying exactly as it was,” said Redford.

The festival now was in Salt Lake City as well as Park City.

“It gives an opportunity to show that Utah is a world class state in the arts,” said former Utah governor Mike Leavitt.

There is no question that the state film folks couldn't have asked for more than Sundance.

In looking at the history, one must respect Redford in his vision.  It was never about the star gazing and the Hollywood scene.



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