Festival's 25-Year History Marks Evolution, Change

Festival's 25-Year History Marks Evolution, Change

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The event now known as the Sundance Film Festival is about to turn locations here in Northern Utah into THE place to see and be seen.

But, it wasn't always that way.

The festival has gone through many transitions, including name changes and increased media attention to the place where Hollywood dealmakers try to find their next star.

Arts Specialist Carole Mikita, who has covered it for 23 years now, joins us with a look back...

The festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it all began here at Trolley Corners in 1978 with the title "The Utah/U.S. Film Festival".

It was a very small gathering for a few serious film buffs. Once Robert Redford and his Sundance Institute took over, it became one of the most important film festivals in the world, a mega media event and celebrity central.

No one in Salt Lake City who loved independent films back in the late 1970s could have imagined this scene: flashing lights, jostling paparazzi, and Hollywood's hottest stars.

"It's more of a philosophical and moral film, as opposed to, you know, something that we see regularly in Hollywood these days," says Gwyneth Paltrow of her former Sundance film, "Sliding Doors."

In its infancy in the early 1980s when it was called the U.S. Film and Video Festival, filmmakers, who mortgaged their homes to make a movie, were literally begging for audiences and any media coverage.

By 1985, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute took over. The name was then United States Film Festival. For years, he was the biggest, sometimes only star there.

"The first year 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," Redford says.

Through the years, the competition attracted better films and bigger names, every year giving an award to an actor of independent vision.

"What this means to me is that I'm on the right road," says actor Kevin Spacey.

And you know you've really arrived when the Brits make it across the pond. Kenneth Branagh and fellow actors came to Utah for the first time to premiere a new film in 1996.

"It's a beacon. A product of great passion," Branagh says of his film, "A Midwinter's Tale."

But besides providing a venue for stargazing and deal-making, the Sundance Film Festival manages to maintain its original goal -- giving independent filmmakers a showcase, and a stamp of approval.

"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," says Bridget Bedart, an independent filmmaker.

The festival begins tomorrow night here in Salt Lake at Abravanel Hall with the premiere of a film titled "Levity," starring Morgan Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst. Mr. Redford will be there to welcome everyone.

Then it moves to Park City and screenings of dramatic, documentaries, short and foreign films continue through the 26th.

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