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Day One - Opening Press Conference
by Karen Pecota

There is always an element of surprise that takes place during the annual Sundance Film Festival opening press conference. This year was no different though initially with some disappointment.

The Egyptian Theater stage was set-up for a number of people to be present according to the number of chairs visible. The question was who would present themselves?

At the appointed time to begin, President and Founder of the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford appears on stage. A standing ovation with applause follows to which he graciously accepts but quickly motions for the crowd of journalist be seated. Redford introduces the conference in his typical fashion to thank everyone for coming and then thanks the media in attendance who will cover the festival. He continues with words of gratitude to the media whom places the festival in high regard to cover and gives credence to those who have reported on it for decades. He notes that without such coverage the festival wouldn't be celebrating its 34th year success and adds that without the amazing troop of the annual festival volunteers there would be no festival.

Just as quickly as he appears, Redford exists stage-left but before he leaves, he brings a close to his words and says, "There's no need for an introduction so without further a due..." And, at that moment, Festival director, John Cooper; Executive director, Sundance Institute, Kari Putnam and all of the festival programming directors appear on stage and each take their seat: Kim Yutani (Director of Programming), David Courier (Sr. Programmer), Shari Frilot (Chief Curator, New Frontier and Sr. Programmer), Caroline Libresco (Director, Catalyst and Women at Sundance and Sr. Programmer), John Nein (Sr. Programmer). Mystery is solved as to who's now on stage to share about what's coming to the festival in the next several days.

The conversation begins with each director describing their varied responsibilities. They mention varied themes and lean into the sign of the times as cultural divisions seem to dictate relevant subject matters: risk-taking, truth telling and creativity.

In talking about the films, I learned there is a premiere film category chosen on purpose. These projects have distribution prior to the festival and they are rarely independent films. The idea is that it represents completion of a project. A good model but often it's confusing to the audience because they expect independent films but when questions people ask at the Q & A session, "What was your budget?" Or, "How much did it cost to make your film?" I've rarely heard any filmmaker reveal this answer.

Cooper comments in reference to the documentaries, "Without truth, information is hollow." Their consensus is that through the variety of artist they are viewing the world in its current state.  Programmer Yutani says, "We screen thousands and thousands of films and when a unique message transpires, it's obvious and that film receives one of our selections."

Every year the documentary section gets larger and is on-par with the feature film selections. They have never selected documentary films for a quota in the festival but Redford has always stated that through the documentaries we see more in depth information which keeps us abreast with culture. He's devoted to the full-story which daily news sound-bites don't produce. Words used to describe the variety of films to screen at this year's festival: diversity, fearless, real, creative, embolden, optimistic.

Allowing for more diversity among the credentialed press, film themes and creative artists take center stage including the newest venue of the New Frontier with The Black Box.

Everyone missed Redford's presence and his engaging storytelling of how the Sundance film festival began. In its place, his mentorship presented itself in a natural way when he showcased the festival programmers and the jobs which they hold dear. Redford continues to be relevant to his message, his people and his audience which proves the continuing success of the Sundance Institute and the annual Sundance Film Festival.