The 30th Annual Sundance Film Festival kicked off with a discussion between festival founder Robert Redford, current festival director John Cooper, and 2012 festival director Keri Putnam.  The trio talked about the state of Sundance today with regard to its history, and where it may be headed in the future.  It’s clear that they all care very deeply about their work here, and really want to maintain its vision of support for artists and filmmakers.  To find out more about what they discussed, and to see exactly what they said, check out the rest of the article after the jump…

This year marks a milestone anniversary for the Sundance Film Festival: 30 years!  Rather than discuss the films being shown this year, they decided to focus on the mission and vision of the festival.  Robert Redford began the chat by posing a reflective question the Sundance leaders are constantly considering:

“We ask ourselves a question of ourselves that nobody asks of us:  Why are we here?  What’s our point?  In 1980, I wanted to create a space and a place for independent artists with new ideas and new voices to have a place to go.”

The fact that this thought is always in the back of their minds has been reflected in the ever expanding programs and categories offered at Sundance, including the NEXT category, which showcases low and no-budget films, to make the festival accessible to those who find a way to make movies without funding, as well as recent partnerships with Youtube to make online distribution and rentals available for films that pass through the hallowed halls of the Park City theaters.  This sentiment will continue, according to future festival director Keri Putnam:

“We’ve been really focused on how we can support the impact of [artists’] work, how we can connect it with more audiences…We’re increasing our public programming, We’re doing screenings and workshops across the country, in partnership with many organizations…We really work to promote the role that film, theater, and all of the arts in supporting our culture, and connecting people across perceived boundaries.”

John Cooper, who is handing off the festival reigns to Putnam after two years as festival director, discussed some of the challenges of this year’s festival:

“We’ve lost a theater, and I think we are going to feel that with the seats we’ve lost in Park City…And we can tell from ticket sales & the word on the street that it’s going to be a very big year, and be very crowded on the streets…Also, I fear that this constant ongoing situation of ambush marketers are back…I honestly wish they could contribute to independent film, or art in general…but I believe, truthfully, that the magic happens in the theaters of Park City, and not out on the streets.”

The loss of a Racquet theater, a tennis club gymnasium converted into a 600 seat theater, is a big deal.  Last year this theater was home to the premiers of such impressive films as Splice and Exit Through the Gift Shop, which might not have ended up in front of as many eyeballs in real theaters without the extra buzz generated by having an extra 600 people running around Park City talking about them.  Furthermore, no one likes to see an event they hold so personally dear taken over by advertising from corporate sponsors that are involved with the festival only peripherally, at best.

When taking questions from the assembled press, Mr. Redford discussed the growing influence of the internet over film in general, but asserted that it wouldn’t affect the fest’s mission:

“The democratization of the internet has created all kinds of opportunities, as well as some negative stuff, like too much information.  But I’m very excited by that.  The opportunities that are coming are great, because as long as we adapt and stay focused on the principal of our mission, which is to do whatever we can do to help filmmakers get their work out, and create more audiences for the work.  So I’m all in favor of it.”

Mr. Cooper went on to elaborate that with so much accessibility for films these days, artists are creating work that appeals less to specific audiences, but rather rings true to their creative vision:

“Artists are staying more personal, more real to themselves, because they know that they’re not going to have to perform for [a specific] somebody else, it’s between them and the audience, and they know instinctively that there’s an audience for their films.  When we look back at some of our more difficult films like Precious and Winter’s Bone, they keep making it…and it’s not just for these 10 days; there’s a real hunger for these types of films.”

The most awkward moment of the press conference came when some one asked Redford if he might follow the leads of Larry King and Regis Philbin (both, like Redford, in their seventies) and considered retirement.  Taken aback some, Redford replied:

“I have not thought about retiring… I mean, I’m gonna die, but… I would like to put a nod to the people who have started at the bottom, and worked their way to the top…and I am very proud of John Cooper.”

So Redford, aware that he is now in the sunset of his life, expressed complete confidence in his successors’ ability to maintain the true spirit of Sundance.

Finally, when asked about some of the controversy and protests surrounding Kevin Smith’s new film Red State, Redford expressed what seemed like indifference, disregarding their rhetoric and ideals by saying:

“I’m kind of anti-ideology…our work really tries to transcend politics in one way or another, whatever side you’re on…we’re not beholden to any power above us, be it religion or government.”

John Cooper followed up with the following reflection, quoting a prior Sundance Film These Amazing Shadows:

“‘Stories unite us; theories divide us.’”  Filmmaking is about stories, so being here is about uniting around these ideas.”

So there you have it:  Sundance remains about creating an opportunity for new and unique voices to share their ideas with audiences eager for something out of the ordinary.  Though the scope of the festival may have expanded far beyond anything they could have dreamed at its inception, it has managed to adapt and evolve to suit the tastes of increasingly sophisticated and challenging film-goers.  The world can continue spinning…for now.