Robert Redford declares, 'Presidents come and go'; Al Gore says Trump can't stop progress battling climate change
The Sundance Film Festival got underway in Park City, Utah Thursday, hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. Not surprisingly, the prospect of where Trump may take the country appeared much on the minds of festival goers, and the festival's founder.
At the opening day news conference, Robert Redford predicted a backlash against Trump if the incoming administration dismantles programs important to many Americans.
"It looks like a lot of things are going to be taken or tried to be taken away from us. And I think what that's going to do is galvanize the people. I really have total faith in that," Redford told reporters gathered at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. "Those people who weren't interested or figured, 'Why? Who cares?' are now going to realize they are going to be directly affected. And they're going to step up."
He continued, "A movement is going to go against whatever choice is made to cut things away that affects people. People are going to rebel against that. And a movement will be created. And I think that's very, very helpful."
Presidents come and go. The pendulum swings back and forth. It always has. It probably always will.
Hours after Redford's news conference, Trump came up again at the premiere of An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary that convinced many people of the imminent threat posed by climate change.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the star of both films, reportedly told audiences after the screening, "Whether or not Donald Trump, inaugurated tomorrow, will take the kind of approach that continues this progress [on combating climate change], we'll have to see, but let me reiterate, no one person can stop this."
At the news conference, Redford was asked what role he foresaw Sundance playing in the Trump era. His answer proved less confrontational than might have been expected.
"Presidents come and go," he said. "The pendulum swings back and forth. It always has. It probably always will. So we don't occupy ourselves with politics. We try to stay away from politics per se. And we stay focused on what are the stories being told by artists. So that's our main drive. And if politics comes up in the stories that the filmmakers are telling, so be it. But we don't play advocacy... We do not take a position."
Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute, spoke to the kinds of freedoms that may be imperiled in a Trump Administration.
"It's also a time for us to really celebrate and affirm some of the founding values of Sundance which obviously include the power of art and artists to kind of propel us forward as a society, but also free expression... And I think also the equality and the importance of all voices, the idea that diverse voices make a difference," Putnam noted.
She expressed deep concern over the possibility of steep cuts in federal funding for the arts.
"From what I understand the total amount of the cuts that are being proposed are about $741 million, which equates to about .016 percent of the federal budget. So it feels hard to imagine that being a real budget cut measure. It feels more like a statement about the arts. And I think what people can do -- not just artists -- but all people, whether they are educators or artists or parents or anyone, I think is to speak up for what role arts bring to our culture and to our lives and to our ability to understand our world. So I think it's a critical issue for all Americans."
During the news conference Redford, Putnam and festival director John Cooper addressed more than just Trump. They also delved into the festival's enhanced showcase for environmental-themed documentaries, which get their own category this year. And Redford expressed concern about whether the film festival could continue to call Park City its home, given the area's rapid growth -- itself spurred in part by the success of Sundance.
"The infrastructure's growing very quickly. Pretty soon the only place to go is up. If that's the case the real question is will we be able to preserve a space for us or not? I don't know," he said. "I know one thing is that we have a wonderful relationship with the city and the mayor and so forth. And they want to have us here because we've brought some good will to the city."
The actor and director, who turned 80 last August, gave a shout out to documentary film, one of his longtime passions.
"I always loved documentaries because as a kid I remember seeing Emile de Antonio's documentaries, and Pennebaker-Leacock. I thought, 'It's really history because they make you feel like you're there, you're actually there.' It had such impact on me," he recalled. "In the meantime I think what's happened is that documentaries have become more and more important as the news media world has shrunk into more of a soundbite world. Everything is so clipped and short it gives you no time to digest, no time to contemplate. It's already moving on to the next event. So therefore I felt that documentaries are having a more important role than ever because it becomes like long-form journalism. It has a chance to really tell the story so the public can really digest it and see how they feel about it."
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.