Robert Redford has been kicking off the Sundance Film Festival with an opening day press conference for 34 years, but he said he was ready to take a backseat role.
“I think we’re at a point where I can move on to a different place,” Redford said. “The thing I’ve missed over the years is being able to spend time with the films and the filmmakers.”
It’s something he hasn’t been able to do much with all the introductions he’s asked to do. But he said at this point, the festival doesn’t need much of an introduction anymore.
The festival officially started on January 24 with the premiere of ‘After The Wedding,’ an adaptation of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish film starring Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, and ‘The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley,’ Alex Gibney’s documentary about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
“I hope [audiences] get a deep dive into the psychology of fraud and the psychology of capitalism,” Gibney said. “That’s what’s really interesting to me about this, that journey of why we believe certain stories and why certain storytellers are effective at fooling people.”
Also debuting was ‘Native Son,’ a contemporary reimaging of the Richard Wright novel, ‘Memory: The Origins of Alien,’ about the Ridley Scott film, and ‘Apollo 11,’ which has never-before-seen or heard footage from the mission. Opening night films have tended to run the gamut from excellent (‘Whiplash’) to forgettable (‘The Bronze’).
The festival this year is host this year to 117 feature films, 105 world premieres and even some retrospectives, including a 20th anniversary screening of ‘The Blair Witch Project.’
For documentary filmmakers, there’s no place like the Sundance Film Festival.
The mountainside festival has become known for launching nonfiction films to box office successes and awards, and this year is shaping up to be no different. The slate boasts a wide array of films about fallen titans, from Harvey Weinstein to music legends Miles Davis and David Crosby, two of Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse accusers, the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, Apollo 11, Mike Wallace, Toni Morrison and Dr Ruth.
In the past five years, three of the best documentary feature Oscar winners got their start at Sundance — ‘Icarus,’ ‘OJ: Made in America’ and ‘20 Feet from Stardom.’ And most of this year’s Oscars shortlist premiered and won special honours at last year’s festival (like ‘Shirkers,’ ‘On Her Shoulders,’ ‘Of Fathers and Sons,’ ‘Dark Money,’ ‘Crime’, ‘Punishment’ and ‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening’) and some are considered shoo-ins for a nomination, like ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ ‘RGB,’ ‘Minding the Gap’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?.
“Sundance is the greatest launching pad,” said filmmaker Julia Reichert. “I can’t think of another festival that shows fiction and documentaries that puts as much honour, respect and spotlight on the documentary.”
The three-time Oscar nominee returns this year with ‘American Factory,’ looking at what happened when a Chinese billionaire bought a closed General Motors factory outside of Reichert’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio and created 2,000 manufacturing jobs in an area still suffering from the plant’s initial closure.
“Most documentary filmmakers aspire to get into Sundance. It’s such a fantastic festival with great potential for distribution and raising the profile of a film. But particularly for films about American politics, it’s really a natural choice,” said Rachel Lears, who directed ‘Knock Down the House.’ It follows four women looking to upset incumbents in a Congressional primary, including first-term New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is expected to be at the festival.
The prolific documentarian Alex Gibney is also back with his latest, ‘The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley’, which looks at the rise and fall of the multibillion dollar tech health care company Theranos and the psychology of its founder, Elizabeth Holmes.
“[Sundance has] always promoted docs and it’s always promoted them in a way that puts them on the same footing as scripted films,” Gibney said.
One of the most anticipated premieres is ‘Leaving Neverland,’ a 233-minute film from Bafta-winning director Dan Reed about two of Michael Jackson’s accusers. The Jackson estate has already denounced it as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.” Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005.
For some, Sundance was an obvious choice because of the subject matter. That was the case for the Harvey Weinstein documentary, ‘Untouchable,’ from director Ursula Macfarlane. Her film charts the disgraced mogul’s career from his early days as a music promotor in Buffalo, to the heyday of Miramax and up to his fall in October of 2017 with the torrent of sexual misconduct and rape allegations against him that spanned decades, some of which allegedly have occurred at the festival. Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
It was a sprint to get it done in time for this year’s festival, however, having less than a year to do so.
“We always wanted it to be submitted to Sundance and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves .... Halfway through the summer we thought no, we can’t, this isn’t going to work. And [producer] Simon [Chinn] came in and saw a rough cut and said let’s send it. It was all hands on deck. It’s been an intense few months,” Macfarlane said. “It’s the perfect place for a film about Harvey. It’s where he had a lot of successes and he changed it and the whole kind of vibe of the industry.”
The festival runs through February 3.