Sundance Film Fest 2013: 51 First Films

Sex and guns occupied centerstage at the press conference, held by Sundance festival and Institute founder Robert Redford, festival director John Cooper and Sundance Institute exec director Keri Putnam.

The effect of technological change on independent film was also a running theme during the opening sesh, livestreamed from Park City’s Egyptian Theater.

Redford said he thinks the conversation about the connection between gun violence and the entertainment industry is overdue. “Does my industry think that guns will help sell tickets? It seems like a fair question to ask,” he said.

Cooper pointed to docu selection “Valentine Road,” about the Oxnard, Calif. shooting of eight grader Larry King, as one that will particularly resonate given the themes currently in the public conversation.

The strength of documentary filmmaking in particular was a recurrent refrain during the press conference. Cooper said that rather than taking on historical themes, many of the docs are “very immediate and very topical.”

Redford started off the conference by emphasizing the word “change,” seeming to reference the significant changes in the business over the past few years. He said that some people see change in a positive way and take advantage of it. “That’s where I am, and where Sundance is,” he said.

Redford also noted that although the themes of festival films sometimes clash with the beliefs of Utah organizations, the festival brings $80 million to the local economy.

The founder and prexy of Sundance Institute said he was surprised that in all the years of the festival, no filmmaker had asked him to appear in a film until “Margin Call” helmer J.C. Chandor wrote a part for him in the all-silent action pic “All is Lost,” which does not yet have a distrib.

Asked what has changed since the festival started, Redford said the change from sex being portrayed romantically to part of relationships was a notable difference.

Cooper agreed that the complexity of sexual relationships from both male and female perspectives is an important trend this year, saying he also hopes that the proportion of female directors in competition, 50% this year, is a change that will continue.

Redford mentioned the New Frontier section which brings high technology and film together as a way to embrace change, while Cooper said the quality of filmmaking has definitely improved as the technology has improved.

Online viewing has also helped expand the reach of the festival. “We’re working heavily to try to bring the festival to people who can’t be here on the mountain,” said Putnam. Noting the efforts of the festival’s Artist Services department, which facilitates online distribution for festival-affiliated films, Putnam said she sees a continued trend in filmmakers being entrepreneurial. Cooper also noted the strong connection between film and music, including the fest’s partnership with ASCAP and Santa Monica’s public radio station KCRW.

Putnam called attention to the number of first-time filmmakers — 51 out of 119 films — and the fact that 22 films came out of various Sundance labs.

Eager to get the party started, Cooper exclaimed, “We’re sitting on a powder keg of talent that needs to explode.”

But the conference’s moderator, film critic Sean Means, sounded a note of caution about the rampant germs and high altitude. “Hydration and hand sanitizer, stay healthy!” he cautioned.