The Buddha-like Presence of Robert Redford
written by Cam Christiansen
I just got back from the Directors brunch at the Sundance institute approximately one hour out of Park City Utah. I was one of the lucky, being a director/animator for a short in this year's festival called The Real Place, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
This brunch is for many one of the highlights of the festival and though we went last year it was equally exceptional and inspiring. It is a wonderful way to get to know some of the best filmmakers in the world and hear what is on peoples mind.
I spent the morning chatting with Max Maye a director of a movie called Adam from L.A. via New York. We spent the hour riding up on the bus through spectacular winter scenery. Along the way he gave me tips on screenwriting and talked about the wonders of digital technology and its impact on filmmakers especially with the advent of the newer HD cameras. (His movie was shot in HD.)
After pulling into the institute I made a B-line to a table in front of the microphone as I anticipated that based on last year there would be a good chance of being welcomed by Robert Redford. After ditching my coat I headed straight for the buffet table and along the way ran into the director of Mary and Max, Adan Eliott whose film opened the film festival. Adam was very good natured and personable and was talking about the challenges of selling the film which as of this date is unsold. He mentioned people feeling like “they didn’t know what to do with it“ and that it may not be "uplifting enough." He thought perhaps there is an anticipation with animation that it should always be “happy” and his is much more complex and, at times, dark. He was talking of selling it to the same people who had Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir, which seems like a good fit, so fingers crossed it is still early on and.... come on people wake up it's a great film!
The brunch continues and I meet numerous other short filmmakers, programmers and an actor from a hilarious movie called Humpday that I recommend people see. It has a theme of gay sex that I saw with my father and wow was that awkward! By the way it’s a testament to the movie that my dad enjoyed it and is now happily making jokes about it. After we enjoyed a spectacular meal at the brunch festival director Geoffrey Gilmore steps up to the mic and welcomes us to none other than Robert Redford.
After being warmly greeted by the whole room of appreciative filmmakers he began addressing some of the issues that were on the minds of everyone. There was in general a lot of worry expressed about the current climate and state of the economy. He took time to remind us that there has been a tendency to be overhyping our current situation. “When times are good its blue sky’s and when times are tough its hurting. Well its really neither of these, it's somewhere in the middle.” With film he said it's always been hard to find financing so what you want to do is find your anchor and recognize yourself as an artist and tell your personal story regardless of these threats. He has a very soft spoken and warm presence and I think for many brought a Buddha-like calm to a lot of anxious feelings about the future. He reminded everyone to not get wrapped up in selling the film and the awards etc and just celebrate this coming together and to use it to continue to inspire you beyond the festival. It is something I certainly will take to heart and as we push onward.
In the end Robert took time to talk with people and I decided I would try and say hi. Instantly there developed a scrum of filmmakers around him and the festival director had an almost impossible task to be fair and gracious at the same time with a room full of people all hoping for a moment of his time. I having had a good seat had a good position in the scrum but in an almost hilarious comedy of errors would always keep missing him. Perhaps it's being a less aggressive with the hands (Canadian) I do not know but after a long time and probably 15 filmmakers I was finally generously guided in by Geoffrey Gilmore. We had a quick chat and I essentially just echoed the sentiments of everyone I had been hearing. There is a real sense of gratitude and thanks for creating a festival that fosters filmmakers' good times and bad.