This year’s Sundance Film Festival kicked off on Jan. 19 with a new kind of pressure: Sundance, the largest independent film festival in the United States, is at the tense crossroads of politics and media, causing many spectators to wonder how the independent film industry will cope with the realities of a Trump presidency.
Prolific actor Robert Redford is the President and Founder of Sundance Institution, the organization responsible for organizing the film festival. Redford hopes to keep the festival from alienating demographics in the palpably divided current political climate.
“We can’t advocate, but we can show,” he recently told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “I’ve been very careful over the years to not take a position politically, with the festival or the [filmmakers’] labs.” It’s worth noting, however, that Redford has in the past contradicted himself, offering up praise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 before releasing a statement toning down his encouragement to a support of Trump’s career, if not his campaign.
Despite his intentions, the festival has become a hotbed of political strife. On Jan 21., comedian and actress Chelsea Handler led a Women’s March down Main Street of Park City, Utah where the festival was being held. Handler was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Handler even became emotional on the post-election episode of her talk show “Chelsea.”
In a statement on the event’s Facebook page, Handler contrasted Redford’s comments, saying, “Sundance has always been a platform for change, not only for filmmakers and filmmaking but also for big ideas for the future,” going on to say, “if there’s anything I learned in the last year, it’s that we need to be louder and stronger than ever about what we believe in, so I joined some incredible women from around the country to bring our voices together in the streets of Park City.”
This past year was replete with critiques of the film and media industry. Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech at the 2017 awards ceremony, which characterized Donald Trump’s behavior as bullying and championed the press’s duty to deliver the truth, was criticized as being stuck inside the liberal media bubble. While it’s not uncommon for artists to use their platforms to spread messages for causes they are passionate about, it has been an especially humbling year for the media.
Redford explained that art is an important aspect of society. “Without art, I think society would be in some form of collapse,” he said.
He continued telling the Tribune, “It is not only enhancing the story of a society, it critiques society at the same time. I think it’s incredibly valuable, that art enhances society, it draws attention to society, and it critiques society that’s going off the rails.”
No matter which films are screened this year, the Sundance Film Festival promises to be a riveting show of art and politics.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 23 print edition.
Email Laura Tucciarone at [email protected]