Sundance Film Festival Kicks Off In Park City, Utah

Jan 19, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 10:34 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

"Reservoir Dogs," "Memento," "The Blair Witch Project" and the Coen brothers' debut film, "Blood Simple," all have one thing in common. They premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. My co-host Kelly McEvers has more.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Sundance begins tonight in Park City, Utah, and NPR arts correspondent Mandalit del Barco is covering it, so she knows what to expect. Hi, there, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So no one really knows what's going to be the next big, you know, Sundance breakout, but there are some clues that can help us make predictions, right?

DEL BARCO: Right. You know, there are themes that bubble up, and this year Sundance has a program called New Climate. Robert Redford - he founded the festival. He's been an environmentalist for many, many years. And he told me he's especially gratified the festival will feature 14 documentaries, short films and virtual reality experiences on the subject of climate change and conservation.

You know, tonight, Redford will personally introduce his longtime friend, former Vice President Al Gore. He's premiering a sequel to his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." That film premiered 11 years ago at Sundance. And it went on to win two Oscars, and then, of course, Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize. There's also a film about a Chinese recycling plant. Another follows a team of divers and scientists exploring coral reefs, and another looks at California's water system.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "WATER AND POWER: A CALIFORNIA HEIST")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Water is power. Water is power, and water is money. You don't have an industry, you don't have a town, you don't have agriculture unless you have water.

DEL BARCO: That film is called "Water And Power: A California Heist." And there's also a documentary in this program about working in a massive textile factory in India.

MCEVERS: All right, but all the films at Sundance can't all be about climate change and the environment. Yeah?

DEL BARCO: Right, right. There are a few films out of Cuba. One is a sequel to the "Buena Vista Social Club."

MCEVERS: Oh.

DEL BARCO: Another is a documentary about the historic free concert last year in Havana by Major Lazer. There are some films about police violence, including a feature called "Crown Heights." And there are a handful of films about Syria, including one called "City Of Ghosts" about a group of anonymous citizen journalists taking on ISIS.

MCEVERS: You said you talked to Sundance founder Robert Redford. He's also onscreen at the festival this year?

DEL BARCO: He is. He's in a movie called "The Discover," but he didn't really want to talk about that. He wanted to talk about the power of storytelling, and he told me about his idea to create Sundance back in 1978.

ROBERT REDFORD: What if we start a film festival where at least filmmakers could come and see each other's work and form a community? So the first year is maybe 25 films, maybe six or seven documentaries, and maybe a hundred people wandered around out in front of the theater. And I thought this is probably not going to work, but slowly it caught on and then it caught fire. Now it's almost out of control, but the mission was accomplished - to create the space for other voices in film to get their stories told and be seen.

DEL BARCO: You know, Sundance is massive right now.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: And Redford says it's still a struggle to fund independent films, but he did talk about the value of having a communal experience of watching movies on the big screen together.

MCEVERS: It's amazing to think about a small Sundance, given what it is now. Sundance does start tonight, as we said, and tomorrow, of course, is Inauguration Day. Do you expect any crossover between the two events?

DEL BARCO: Oh, sure. You know, Sundance has always attracted a really politically aware group of filmmakers and movie lovers. So in addition to going to screenings and parties, thousands of people plan to march down Main Street in Park City on Saturday. As women march in Washington, the sister march will be led by comedian Chelsea Handler, and among the speakers will be activist Dolores Huerta. She's also the subject of a doc premiering at the festival, so it should be a really interesting time.

MCEVERS: NPR's Mandalit del Barco, who's covering the Sundance Film Festival, thank you.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.