As founder of the Sundance Institute, legendary actor and producer Robert Redford has championed countless independent filmmakers for over 30 years.
Sundance Film Festival has grown steadily since 1985 despite mounting fears about digital developments harming the film industry. So how has this independent film festival in Utah taken on the world now that the world can watch anything it wants?
One of Sundance London’s biggest films in 2014 was Drunktown’s Finest, directed by Sydney Freeland. Freeland, who funded the film through Kickstarter, said at the festival, “with technology today there’s no excuse not to make your move”. This is the message that Sundance promotes, backed by its founder and president.
Crowdfunding played a significant role in this year’s festival, with Kickstarter projects making up 10% of the schedule. As Kickstarter and other platforms come into their own, more independent projects stand a chance of airing at Sundance.
Redford’s latest starring role also raises questions around the effects of digital technology on the world of film. All Is Lost has a brief 32-page script with one character and barely any dialogue. Despite this the film has been hailed for its emotional power, with Redford’s nameless character battling against the elements alone.
Is Redford facing similar struggles in the real world?
The evidence suggests not. Sundance is now bigger than ever, and starting to spread its wings further afield.
The new millennium was a particular turning point for Sundance. With new opportunities like online streaming and digital projection of the films themselves, the 2000 festival began a new era.
One year later Sundance launched its Online Film Festival, giving fans instant access to short films. The site received 3.3 million hits, taking independent film into new territory.
The rise of YouTube allowed Sundance to reach a wider audience and their own channel, SundanceTV, launched in 2006. This outlet on the world’s second largest search engine has been an incredible success, with over 23.5m views on SundanceTV to date.
The festival itself now has a London presence, attracting hordes of film buffs to Greenwich every year since 2012. Independent filmmakers in the UK can now enjoy the support and exposure that Sundance brings, and there’s certainly no shortage of talent to showcase.
All Is Lost and other films championed by Sundance are daring examples of what film can do. Sundance explores how film can survive as access to the world’s back catalogue gets easier. In doing so it keeps returning to one answer – tell great stories.
So Redford’s embattled sailor, an aging explorer in an unpredictable environment, proves that all is not lost – that embracing digital technology need not dictate the kind of films we watch, but might just rescue us from stormy seas.