Sundance opens with vow to uphold freedom of expression

  • AFP, United States
  • Updated: Jan 23, 2015 17:06 IST

The Sundance Film Festival opened Thursday with movie legend Robert Redford proclaiming it a safe haven for freedom of expression, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Redford said the deadly cartoonist shootings were a 'wake-up event' for all who believe in the right to free speech,
including filmmakers gathered for the 11-day independent cinema showcase.

The 78-year-old vowed that the festival, which features edgy and sometimes provocative films as opposed to more mainstream Hollywood movies, would be a 'safe place' for all films, regardless who they offend.

"We believe in diversity, and freedom of expression is very much fundamental to us. ... You see a lot of films here that are going to upset other people, but that is OK, it's diversity."

Of the Paris attacks, he said: "That was a sad event, it was a shocking event. I also have a hunch it was a bit of a wakeup event," adding that "to try to create a safe place for filmmakers ... is what I think Sundance represents."

Some 200 films will be screened at the festival -- held annually in the Utah ski resort of Park City, and now in its 31st year -- between Thursday and February 1.

The schedule kicked off with What Happened, Miss Simone? a biopic of jazz legend Nina Simone using previously unreleased footage to tell her story of musical genius and tortured melancholy.

Also up on the first night were screenings of How to Change the World, about the birth of environmental giants Greenpeace, and a documentary about the tough life of a former star gymnast, The Bronze.

Future filmmaking stars are regularly born at Sundance, which Redford famously named after his character in the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Boyhood and Whiplash, for example, which debuted at the film festival 12 months ago, both won Golden Globes this month and have multiple nominations for this year's Academy Awards.

Redford on screen

On Friday, Redford will make an appearance in front of the camera in the premiere screening of A Walk in the Woods, based on US travel writer Bill Bryson's book of that name.

The veteran actor said he originally wanted his Butch Cassidy co-star Paul Newman to join him in the movie, about a long-distance hike along America's Appalachian Trail.

He tried for years to get the project off the ground, but Newman's faltering health decided the matter. "He said,
'Look, Bob, at my age, I don't think I can do this.' So he had to let it go," Redford said. Newman died in 2008.
At Thursday's opening press conference Redford said that he had long had a rule that his own movies would not feature at Sundance -- but he said festival director John Cooper defied him this year.

"He went out of bounds," he said.

Here are five other films to watch out for at Sundance in the next week and a half:

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's expose of the group, based on a book by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Lawrence Wright.

Last Days in the Desert - Ewan McGregor stars as Jesus -- and the Devil -- in an imagined biblical chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert.

(T)ERROR - Uses unprecedented access to a covert counter-terrorism sting, revealing the 'murky justifications' behind such actions through an FBI informant.

3 And 1/2 Minutes - Another topical film after recent US protests triggered by the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers, the film focuses on the November 2012 death of a 17-year-old boy.
Being Evel - An inside look at the life and times of iconic stuntman Robert Evel Knievel, by Oscar-winning director Daniel Junge.

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