In the classic 1969 Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” Robert Redford’s Sundance teases Paul Newman’s Cassidy about his big schemes. Butch replies, “Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
Both the character of the Sundance Kid and, most importantly, the actor who played him, took that line to heart.
In 1978, Sterling Van Wagman (the head of Robert Redford’s production company Wildwood) and the head of the Utah Film Commission’s John Earle started (with Redford’s input) The Utah/US Film Festival.
This yearly fest was created for the purpose of bringing light to Independent American Cinema and in 1981, moved from Salt Lake City to Park City, Utah. The former summer festival became a winter one, as it would now take place in January.
Dubbed The US Film and Video Festival, it was Sidney Pollack who suggested doing it in a ski resort town to attract more “Hollywood types.”
In 1984, the Sundance Institute (A non-profit founded by Robert Redford in 1981 with the intent of fostering new voices in American Independent films) took over and in 1991, the event was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival.
Under the leadership of Geoffrey Gilmore and John Cooper, Sundance soared, becoming one of prominence and respect, more than earning its place as the leading festival in America. Over the years, Sundance has taken its seat at the table with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Toronto as a member of “The Big Five”.
As we begin Sundance 2023, the festival is filled with the hopeful minds of both the filmmakers and we legion of journalists covering the festival, yearning to find truth, humanity, and maybe a little humor within this year’s pictures.
As the festival gets underway, audiences will be introduced to a varied slate of documentaries.
Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler’s “Bad Press” is about a reporter for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and her fight for the truth when the 2015 Free Press Act is repealed, a relevant subject for the America of 2023.
Nicole Newnham’s “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” a film that is both portrait and rediscovery of the groundbreaking author who, after success with “The Hite Report” (the pioneering study of the intimate experiences of women) seemed to vanish from the serious literary world.
This year there are documentaries about dangerous cults, spirituality, competing high school mariachi bands and NYC’s Meat Packing District, among others.
For those interested in a look at musicians and actors, this year includes a lineup of “Trailblazers and Icons,” documentaries examining the lives and careers of Willie Nelson, Brooke Shields, Michael J. Fox, Little Richard, and the Indigo Girls (who will also be featured in a live performance).
In the World Cinema series, a pregnant woman looks for her emancipation while aliens land on Earth in French-Moroccan filmmaker Sofia Alaoui’s “Animalia.”
Jennifer Connelly and Ben Whishaw star in “Bad Behaviour,” actress Alice Englert’s writing and directing debut that is a dark comedy on human toxicity and misguided redemption.
This year’s World Cinema film lineup includes the poignant mother-daughter tale “Girl,” the Puerto Rican film about deciding our own fates, La Pecera,” and more films that look at family strife, life and power struggles in a village, Iranian refuges, and the lives of Indigenous peoples of the world.
For the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Raven Jackson’s “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” looks at the life of a Black woman in Mississippi over the years and the human drama “A Thousand and One,” A.V. Rockwell’s tale of a mother and son searching for their identity and place in the world.
More interesting American works abound, including films about the cutthroat workplace, Native American family and traditions, bodybuilding, Christian Fundamentalism, and LGBTQ+ struggles for acceptance in a judgmental country.
Along with the short and feature-length works, there is “Beyond Film” which presents artists in discussion of important topics such as the ethics of science and diversity in today’s Hollywood.
The “Partner Events” include discussions on antisemitism and Jewish representation in films and television and proper examination of the world’s climate issues in film.
These unique offerings (along with conversations with the filmmakers and talent involved in each project, are a great way for press and festival goers to keep in the know and connect with fellow attendees, be it in person or online.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival promises to be a week of examination and discovery, through a multitude of films that explore our current world and its cultures and challenges us (featured image: “All dirt roads taste of salt”).
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19-29.