Sundance Film Fest 2017: Syria, Journalism, Environment

Variety’s estimable journalist Brent Lang conducted an illuminating interview with John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Fest

Here are some selective segments.

Issues and themes at this year’s festival?

John Cooper: When you look at the films that we chose, there’s this notion of complexity and people and places that forms a thread of inclusion through the whole festival.

Syria has loomed large in the programming. There are three films from different points of view on the Syrian crisis.

A secondary theme is the use of what people call citizen journalism–the videos and images captured on the ground by people on the front lines, on the police brutality front, and the problems in the Middle East front. They make for such powerful images.

There are movies about race, religion, LGBT rights in other countries. I don’t think we would have seen these films out of these countries ten years ago or five years ago.

Films have different feel after the election

You perceive films differently after the election. A film you programmed because it was well made and important and projected an issue, like “City of Ghosts,” which is about journalists in Syria, after the election, it has a different resonance.

“Beatriz at Dinner” with Salma Hayek is all about a less-privileged Latin American woman up against a big real estate tycoon at a dinner party where fate put them together. That definitely looks different after the election.

Women’s March protesting Trump in Park City

We’re not involved in the women’s march formally. I know a lot of our people will probably march in it, and we believe in freedom of speech…..

Sundance Fest Since 2009

It’s stronger than when I took over. One is the development of talent, and talent that is willing to go into the independent film community and support it, especially from well-known actors, cinematographers and writers…..

Raising the Bar

The bar keeps getting raised. Look at Damien Chazelle.  He set a new bar, and he came out of independent film. I don’t feel that independent film is stagnating at all, a new wave of young people is coming to work our minds in different ways.

From the financial side, the players keep shifting with Amazon, Netflix, and the Showtimes and HBOs. They’re all supporting original storytelling. The development of television, which just keeps getting better and they’re not afraid of taking on harder issues and more interesting subjects….

Diversity and inclusion as focus

I don’t see the festival as solving an issue or something. It’s just organic. We always went out trying to find the most interesting stories and subjects in film. Naturally through that we started to encourage women and diverse filmmakers in terms of race and gender and sexual preference. It’s been growing and we have a legacy of doing that.

Diversity in the festival just happens. It’s coming out of the community and the people who make the films.  We don’t talk about it very often, but the producers and the financiers are a big part of this. They’re not shying away from subjects like this. They’re the quiet heroes in the industry right now.

Films inspiring bidding wars

I always want filmmakers to remember what the true stories are. A lot times a lot of sales happen after the festival. You may be on a plane going home, but you didn’t sell your film. It’s about getting them prepared for that. Filmmakers should remember that this is one film and they should try to think of their careers, and use this time to try to meet other filmmakers…

“Birth of a Nation” supported by Sundance Institute 

We selected that film on its creative merits, so I was really excited when it got attention. There’s a life for the film that’s going to keep going….