The Sundance Film Festival may be a major event now, but when it began decades ago it was anything but a sure bet.
"It was a pretty risky thing to put the festival in the mountains in the middle of the winter, which would make it hard to get to," says actor/director, founder Robert Redford, "but that was sort of the point."
There was no such thing as an independent film festival in 1981 when the first year drew 350 people.
"In the early years, I was standing out on the corner trying to get people to come into the theater," says Redford with a laugh, acknowledging that these days the number is more like 40,000. But he says the goals - to create a lab to develop new talent and a place for that talent to showcase new work - haven't changed.
"We program the festival, after 20 years, exactly the way we did on the first day," says Redford, disagreeing with the critics who say it has gone Hollywood, i.e., just another commercial marketplace. He says it's the industry that has changed, realizing the value of independent films.
"One sign that independent films have reached a certain level of acceptance was when Hollywood started developing sidebar companies - Fox Searchlight, Fine Line, Sony Classic," he avers. "Those were acknowledgment of the role that independent film may have."
Once the festival took off, beginning with the blockbuster success of 1989's "sex, lies and videotape," suddenly studios took notice.
"People began to come, then the merchants came, and then the fashion came," Redford says. When reporters cover the festival atmosphere now, he says the actual films get lost. "They're going to see a completely different picture than the one we're programming," he says. "They'll think it's about Paris Hilton."
• For information on the Sundance Film Festival, go to festival.sundance.org/2006