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Robert Redford and How the Sundance Kid Became the 'Godfather of Indie Film'

Updated on March 15, 2018
Robert Redford and his late friend Paul Newman, are shown in a poster for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."  Filmed in 1969, he probably had no idea at the time the impact Sundance would have on his life and the lives of independent filmmakers.
Robert Redford and his late friend Paul Newman, are shown in a poster for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Filmed in 1969, he probably had no idea at the time the impact Sundance would have on his life and the lives of independent filmmakers.

Redford as One of the Most Influential People in the World

In 2014, Time magazine, calling him the "godfather of indie film," included Robert Redford in their annual Time 100 list as one of the "Most Influential People in the World." It all started for Redford in 1969 when he starred alongside the late Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," the true story of Robert Leroy Parker (Cassidy) and his partner Harry Longabaugh (Sundance) robbing banks and trains as leaders of the outlaw group called the "Wild Bunch." The name of his character (The Sundance Kid), which he has referred to as his "favorite role," has obviously had an influence on his entire life.

Robert Redford speaks at the press conference  in January kicking off the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, of which he is founder and president.
Robert Redford speaks at the press conference in January kicking off the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, of which he is founder and president.

The Sundance Institute

The Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that is engaged in actively advancing the work of independent storytellers in film and theatre. The institute was founded in 1981 by Redford as an "organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive," according to a fact sheet provided by the institute. During that first year, 10 emerging filmmakers were invited to the Sundance Resort in Utah, where they worked with leading writers, directors, and actors developing their original independent projects.

The institute today has grown considerably, with a staff of 170 people who work from offices in Los Angeles, New York City and Park City, providing residential labs and grants that exceed $3 million. During the labs, participants explore field-defining projects; discuss technological/cultural shifts that enabled the projects; learn about creative practices and tools that are emerging; and have direct conversations with pioneers of filmmaking.

They also provide mentorships that support more than 1,000 artists each year.

Redford had a vision and it became a reality thanks to his tireless efforts and dedication to the filmmaking process.

Some of the projects supported by the Sundance Institute include: "Boyhood", "Swiss Army Man", "Manchester By the Sea", "Brooklyn", and "Little Miss Sunshine." There are many, many others.

Robert Redford, shortly after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama in 2016.  Redford has urged President Donald Trump not to defund the National Endowment for the Arts.
Robert Redford, shortly after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama in 2016. Redford has urged President Donald Trump not to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. | Source

“Sundance deepens the resolve of artists, bringing them together in a creative community so that they know they are not alone.” - Robert Redford, President and Founder

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Robert Redford has been very supportive of the National Endowment for the Arts, and according to Grants.gov, the NEA "is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation."

The Sundance Film Festival

History was made at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight picked up Nate Parker’s acclaimed slave revolt drama “The Birth of a Nation” for an astonishing $17.5 million, making it the biggest deal in Sundance history. Unfortunately, the film opened in 2,105 theaters, earning an estimated $7.1 million in the US and Canada, considerably lower than the Fox Searchlight expectations.

Fortunately for them, they also paid $10.5 million for "Little Miss Sunshine," which was produced in 2006, had an international box office gross of $100.5 million, became a bonafide indie blockbuster, won two Oscars and many other awards.

The complete streaming rights to another independent film entitled "Manchester by the Sea," were purchased by Amazon Studios for $10 million in 2016. Roadside Attractions partnered with Amazon shortly after for the theatrical rights to the film. "Manchester by the Sea" was also a box office hit and managed to win two Oscars, proving that independent filmmakers were, indeed, stiff competition for the films produced by major studios. That film grossed over $60 million in worldwide distribution, no doubt pleasing the decision-makers at Amazon Studios.

This is a still from "The Birth of a Nation" which won the top prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.  Fox Searchlight bought the rights to the film for $17.5 million, making this slave rebellion drama the biggest deal in Sundance history.
This is a still from "The Birth of a Nation" which won the top prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight bought the rights to the film for $17.5 million, making this slave rebellion drama the biggest deal in Sundance history.

Grants Available to Filmmakers

The Sundance Institute offers grants to documentary filmmakers as well, and for more information, click on their website: http://www.sundance.org

The institute receives 1,500+ grant submissions annually and awards more than $3 million to independent artists and their projects yearly.

A Sundance blockbuster, "Manchester by the Sea" won two Oscars in 2017.
A Sundance blockbuster, "Manchester by the Sea" won two Oscars in 2017.

“To me what’s most important if you want to tell a story, and you want to own the story you’re telling: Get out in the world. Hit the road. Have some real life experience that’s going to feed your mind.” - Robert Redford

"Marjorie Prime" - one of the films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
"Marjorie Prime" - one of the films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

The Vision of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute

"We believe that a story driven by an individual, authentic voice can awaken new ideas that have the power to delight and entertain, push creative boundaries, spark new levels of empathy and understanding, and even lead to social change. We support independent storytellers and advance the impact of their work in the world."

Festival director John Cooper embraced Al Gore at the premiere of the "An Inconvenient Truth" sequel presented at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Festival director John Cooper embraced Al Gore at the premiere of the "An Inconvenient Truth" sequel presented at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Become a Member of the Sundance Institute

To become a member of the Sundance Institute, click on their website: http://www.sundance.org/support/membership. There are three levels of membership - Indie, $65; Supporter. $500; and Storyteller, $2500.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have met their demise in this final scene of the movie, but Robert Redford was just getting started.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have met their demise in this final scene of the movie, but Robert Redford was just getting started.

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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