CANNES – The star power at MIPCOM rose considerably with the arrival of Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Channel.
Speaking at a special media lunch to celebrate the first year of the channel in Europe, Redford, appearing along with Mad Men stars Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss as well as Rainbow Media CEO, Joshua Sapan and assorted Rainbow Media executives, regaled reporters with stories about the origin of Sundance, as well as the significance of the channel beginning its European life in France.
Redford said that while studying to be a visual artist in France in the late Fifties, he hitchhiked his way to Cannes and wound up sleeping under a pier on the beach, facing the legendary Carlton Hotel. ‘I thought, ‘God, what goes on in that hotel?” he mused.
Of course, years later he would find out first-hand upon visits to the Cannes Film Festival as an acclaimed actor. But it was another element of French culture – the community of artists in the first decades of the 20th century – that served as inspiration for the Sundance Institute, the subsequent film festival and the channel that bears the Sundance name. Saying that he felt the need to ‘put something back into my own industry,’ he came upon the idea of bringing independent filmmakers together practically in his own back yard in Utah, to create another artistic community. ‘I thought maybe there would be some benefit if we put nature and art together.’
A large part of the art supported by all of the Sundance initiatives is documentary film. An ardent supporter of documentary, Redford says his love of the form in the Seventies propelled him to create a documentary lab for Sundance in its early days, and to further support independent docs via the festival and ultimately the channel. In discussing the recent Brick City docu-series, a gritty look at the efforts of Newark mayor Cory Booker’s efforts to, in Redford’s words, ‘rehabilitate that community against very difficult odds,’ the legendary actor/director said, ‘We’re excited about it because [it gives us] the chance to be more independent in terms of subject matter.’
‘I think the world of documentaries and will continue to push their opportunities,’ he told reporters.
On the occasion of Sundance Channel’s first European anniversary, new carriage deals were announced by channel owner Rainbow Media for France via SFR, the Netherlands via Caiway and South Korea via KT. Sundance Channel previous global affiliates include Numericable and Free in France; Telenet in Belgium; UPC Polska in Poland; Skylife in South Korea; SingTel’s mio TV in Singapore and Canada’s Corus Entertainment. Redford says the continued global roll-out will occur at a natural, organic pace, as ‘I don’t think bigger is better.’