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Sunday, April 29, 2007


In the early 90s, just after the phenomenal success of SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, the administration of Sundance crumbled and many associated with the actor financed enterprise. Tony Safford left, there was much displeasure with the non-profit festival and institute and the for-profit resort and their symbiotic relationship. But more than anything else, people were asking what is the purpose of Sundance and why was Redford still funding it?


After almost sweeping the awards competition at Cannes, Steven Soderbergh returned to L.A. in hot demand. He agreed to be a poster boy for Sundance and let the festival take credit for being the world-wide launch pad for "sex, lies and videotape." For reasons of ego and money, not all filmmakers want to concede anything or give away credits to profit and especially non-profit development institutions whether they helped them or not. But Soderbergh, although he might come regret it later, was more giving than the average indie filmmaker toward Sundance and Redford.

And Robert Redford was actively courting Soderbergh for a film he wanted to make with Soderbergh called KING OF THE HILL. Even before Miramax released "sex lies and videotape" to sensational box office, Sodebergh was making arrangements to make his next films. He was happy to be talking with Redford, even hoped the generous A-list actor would become a mentor to his future career. But the young southerner was also talking with Pollack about making the biopic KAFKA and time frames are critical in packaging movies regardless if you are an rogue indie, a wannabee, or a Hollywood insider.

As many speculated at the time, it appeared Redford was using the developmental processes of Sundance Institute and launch pad of Sundance Film Festival to feather his own professional career. Many successful Hollywood actors found their own theater company but ultimately fail because of the conficts between personal interest and company concerns. Roping in Soderbergh was proof for some of Redford using the advantage of the non-profit for his own personal gain. While Sundance administration was in shambles, its mission and focus unclear and uncertain, his critics were certain Redford would ignore the needs of Sundance to make a deal for KING OF THE HILL.

The year after "sex, lies, and videotape" propelled Sundance forward despite staff defections, a new era was about to begin -- the Geoffrey Gilmore era. Two films highlighted the 1990 Sundance Festival: Charles Burnett's brilliant TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and the winner of the Filmmakers Trophy Hudlin Brother's HOUSE PARTY. These two films could not have had more opposite fates in theatrical distribution. Yet, the so-called "bidding wars" that would later come to typlify the atmosphere of Sundance had not come to the street cafes of Park City. "sex, lies" did not get picked up at Sundance and the Hudlin Brothers sold their house party dance movie at Toronto.

If for nothing else, as pundants and prognosticators would try to easily but wrongfully suggest, a Sundance "aesthetic" had still not emerged and Redford's professional interests in KING OF THE HILL were seemingly dashed as Soderberg picked KAFA (1991) to go into production rather than KING OF THE HILL (1993) much to Redford's displeasure. In the evolution of Sundance, 1990 was still a difficult adjustment year and one Redford had to bound through with no assurance of success for either the profit or non-profit aspects of his personal commitment to the concept of a mountain-side film development institute and American indie festival.

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