Sundance 2019 officially kicked off on Thursday afternoon at the annual opening day press conference. Robert Redford made only a brief appearance, before handing things over to the programmers. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years,” Redford said. “I think we’re at a point where I can move on to a different place. I don’t think the festival needs a whole lot of introduction now.”
Though record-high submissions and more buzz than ever may give the perception that the festival is about money and profits, it remains an extension of the non-profit work the Sundance Institute does: supporting artists, sustaining their careers, and providing a place for independent artists to gather and create a community. "We see Sundance as a public square. In a time when click optimization and commerce push shallow and sensationalized stories to the forefront in place of those of depth and risk," said Executive Director Keri Putnam. "This festival is about art, culture, and community and how artists will lead us to places we might not otherwise go. Artists have an unapologetic subjectivity, a fearlessness in directing our gaze, and imaginative minds to envision future possibilities that are not data-drive, but human-centered." As Putnam also hailed the efforts of the festival to elevate diverse voices and increase inclusion, not just amongst filmmakers, but also press from underrepresented groups. She also spoke on the difficulties faced by many foreign filmmakers in the current political climate, noting two filmmakers from Muslim countries, Soudade Kaadan of Syria and Arman Fayyaz of Iran, were denied visas to attend the festival.
Led by Festival Director John Cooper and Director of Programming Kim Yutani, senior programmers discussed what the festival has in store and any common themes. Many of the films this year touch on the importance of journalism and the global rise of nationalism. Troubling times are a catalyst for art and nowhere is that more clear than the documentary section of the Sundance program where senior programmer David Courier said we're currently experiencing an "incredible renaissance in documentary filmmaking." Programmers specifically called out the ferocity of filmmakers right now, citing docs Knock Down the House, The Brink, The Edge of Democracy, The Great Hack, and Hail Satan?.They also touched on a couple exciting additions to the festival this year, including the New Frontier Center which is open to festival credential holders and the Talent Forum (Jan. 29-31) at the Kimball Art Center where seventeen fellows from Sundance Institute's artist-development programs will have the chance to meet with industry professionals to further their projects (more info here).