I can't help but walk away from the Sundance Film Festival amazed each year at what an incredible and wonderful thing it is. And not just the festival but the entire Sundance organization. This year it even expanded to go beyond the movies and the labs, to include the exhibitors too (I have written enough about the Art House Convergence for you to already know what I am talking about).
Although the infinite web of Sundance wouldn't exist without many many people, I just can't help but get all impressed by what Robert Redford has done. Although the media seems to still love to debate about what the festival is or isn't, the simple fact that Sundance is the greatest cultural institution for Indie Film (and maybe it doesn't need that qualifier) that there is in this country (and probably the world) can not be expressed enough. It truly is mind-boggling in the best way what Redford has given us.
I started making films just as Sundance was revving up. I probably would have gone into one of my alternative career paths (armed revolutionary, bank robber, toy inventor, or community organizer) if they, American Playhouse, and the IFP weren't around to rescue me and give me a glimmer of hope that truly free filmmaking was possible. As much as I have benefited from a whole industry and community of support, it is Sundance that holds it all up and continually expands it, demanding us to reach higher. Wow. Thank you, Mr. Redford.
Yet each year I wonder the same thing: why is Robert Redford such a singular example? Why is everything else in this business driven solely by short term self interest? I was invited on to the Sundance Panel "The Panic Button: Push or Ponder?" and after participating, I am more ready than ever to push that button. Unless others follow Redford's example and start giving back, we are sure to have a film culture of extremes: the super low-budget self-financed personal expressions and farm-league calling cards and other industry-backed economically-safe re-imaginings of yesterday's hits.
And it has to start with those with the most power. We all need to ask and then act on what we can do to build this culture, allow it to become sustainable, and make it obtainable for all who are willing to work. We have a long way to go.