A look back at 25 years of Sundance

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What has become the Sundance Film Festival started with a handful of people, including Robert Redford, who wanted Utahns to have access to more movies.

Art films came to Salt Lake City in a brief festival of sorts in the late 1970s. Organizers gathered for a ribbon cutting at Trolley Square. "It's the single-most productive public relations effort that the state has with the film industry," festival founder John Earl said in 1980.

Robert Redford
Robert Redford

Redford was an adviser from the beginning and continued lending his support through the first few years. In 1985, he and his Sundance Institute agreed to take over the financially-struggling festival.

"There were a lot of people who had bruised feelings from what had happened before I wasn't even aware of. So, we tried it and there was, like, mixed support," Redford said.

Ten years later, Redford remembered the risk, the fear and little support. "The first year we had, we had an attendance of 400 people and all signs indicated that this was probably going to be one of the great tank jobs of all time," he said in 1994.

Soon, Sundance films attracted Hollywood stars. No one in those early days could have imagined the scene: paparazzi heaven.

Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey

The stars came, promoting films and supporting Sundance, receiving awards as independent artists. "What this means to me is that I'm on the right road, and I'm gonna keep trying to do the best work that I can," actor Kevin Spacey said in January 2000.

Even Britain's best came to premiere a film here. "It's a beacon, really, not just for America, but in terms of the world as a truly independent festival, or pictures that are almost always the product of great passion," actor Kenneth Branagh said in January 1996.

Festival organizers say it still maintains its original intent providing a place for independent filmmakers to showcase their art. "Getting in makes you feel like it was all worth it; all the risk, all the financial burden, everything, you know. It's a really good feeling," said independent filmmaker Bridget Bedard in January 2005.

Redford is given credit from filmmakers throughout the world for his vision. "I had a real passion for what I thought could be done at a certain time that would create something new and possible. But it was only a hope. There was nothing else to go on. So, those are scary times, but you go through them because you believe in them," he said\

Last year, Redford wore a button that read "Focus on Film," meaning instead of the stars and the parties. He hopes he won't have to this year.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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