Sundance founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and festival chief John Cooper navigate challenging questions
The Sundance opening day news conference. L-R moderator Barbara Chai, head of arts and entertaintainment at Dow Jones Media Group, Sundance founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper. Park City, Utah, Thursday, January 18, 2018. Photo by Matt Carey
The Sundance Film Festival officially got underway Thursday with an opening day news conference characterized by questions of the kind Hollywood has been struggling to address for months.
Moderator Barbara Chai of the Dow Jones Media Group wasted little time asking Sundance founder Robert Redford and his leadership team -- Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and film festival director John Cooper -- to size up the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which have pressured the entertainment industry to overhaul its patriarchal power structure.
"I'm pretty encouraged right now as this period of change -- what it's doing is it's bringing forth more opportunity for women and more opportunity for women in film to have their own voices heard and do their own projects," Redford responded. "I'm pretty excited by that."
We were sickened to hear along with everyone else about Harvey's behavior.
"It's kind of tipping point because it's changing the order of things so that women are going to have a stronger voice. And they didn't have it before this. Too much control by the male dominance," Redford continued. "But now I think it's going to be more even-handed. And I think the role for women to be able to step forward and exercise their voices more and more is a really wonderful thing. And I think the role for men right now would be to listen."
Putnam noted the potentially seismic shift in the business goes beyond ostracizing some reprehensible characters.
"I do think it's about more than a few individual men. I think it's about the underlying systems of power and especially in the media industry," she told journalists gathered at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street in Park City, Utah.
She said the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements had raised questions about "Who gets financing, who gets distribution, who gets to tell the stories and what stories we tell. At Sundance... I'm very lucky because we do work with a lot of underrepresented storytellers. We work with a lot of women storytellers... This isn't a new conversation for us [at Sundance] but it's a new moment. And we're not going to go backwards from here."
For the first time, the festival is spelling out the standard of behavior it expects from Sundance attendees.
"When you form a community you have to form an experience that feels safe and so we created a code of conduct. We have had a code of conduct for our staff and volunteers for years and years but it had to go bigger this year," Cooper stated.
A card inserted into all credentials reads in part, "Sundance Institute is committed to allowing attendees to experience the Sundance Film Festival free of harassment, discrimination, sexism, and threatening or disrespectful behavior."
In addition, the festival has partnered with the Utah Attorney General's office to create a 24-hour hotline to report incidents that violate the code of conduct.
Hollywood's sudden reckoning with egregious sexual misconduct by men in positions of power followed the downfall of producer Harvey Weinstein, whose alleged history of sexual harassment and assault was exposed last fall by the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine.
Weinstein and Sundance became almost synonymous in the 1990s. In 1989 Miramax -- then run by Weinstein -- acquired sex, lies and videotape at Sundance, which helped put both the festival and Miramax on the map.
The mogul was a major presence at the festival for years -- and just last year appeared with Jay Z at the premiere of the docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which the Weinstein Company and Jay Z produced.
They were looking at our festival to find out what they could cherry pick for their own use.
Sundance allegedly served as the backdrop for more than business for Weinstein. He has been accused of attacking actress Rose McGowan at the festival in 1997 and, more recently, sexually harassing actress Louisette Geiss.
A reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune asked whether Sundance bore any responsibility for enabling Weinstein's behavior.
"I'll take this one," Putnam volunteered. She responded, "We were sickened to hear along with everyone else about Harvey's behavior. And certainly even more so to learn that at least a couple of those incidents happened during [the] Sundance Film Festival... Further, Sundance as an institution, never contributed to that behavior. We have longstanding values of respect and tolerance and we support artists. So we stand for diversity and creativity and a lot of things that are in direct opposition to that kind of behavior. So I really do want to be firm on that. Of course these things sickened us and happened during our festival they're nothing we were aware of at the time."
Redford weighed in as well, saying, "I think Harvey Weinstein was like a moment in time and I think that we're going to move past that, and others like him that are being accused of the same thing. I think we will move past that. I don't think he's going to stop the show."
He said producers like Weinstein regarded Sundance as a place to acquire content.
"They came to the festival with one thing in mind. They appeared to be very supportive of the festival and I think they were, but for their own interests. Because they were looking at our festival to find out what they could cherry pick for their own use," Redford stated. "So he could take some of the films and probably get them cheaper here and then go out and promote them as his own. There's nothing we can do about that. We're not a control mechanism. We can't control what goes out of this festival."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.