By Piya Sinha-Roy
PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Robert Redford may have been one of the noteworthy exclusions in Thursday's Oscar nominations, but as the actor-director kicked off the 30th edition of his Sundance Film Festival, he made the point that film is not all about Hollywood anyway.
A leading man in the 1970s and 1980s, Redford created the annual Sundance gathering in Park City, Utah, to give an outlet to independent film making and creativity brewing outside of the big studios.
Speaking at his annual press conference, Redford said he did not want the fact that he had not received an Academy Award nomination for his role in "All is Lost" to detract from the festival. But in explaining why the movie was not recognized by Oscar voters, he put the blame on the studio behind the film, Lionsgate.
"We suffered from little to no distribution, so as a result, our distributors, I don't know why, they didn't want to spend the money, they were afraid or they just weren't capable," said the 77-year-old Redford, who has won two Oscars. Neither was for acting.
"We had no campaign to help us cross over into the mainstream, so I suspect that had something to do with it. Would it have been wonderful to be nominated? Of course. But I'm not disturbed or upset by it," he added.
But Redford was upset by a recent article published in the New York Times that suggested Sundance's growing crop of films that are acquired from the festival and receive theatrical releases are not always beneficial to the movie theater business. Redford criticized the author of the article, saying "that person was wrong," referring to critic Manohla Dargis.
"There was an article recently in a paper that seems to suggest that Sundance isn't what it could be or what it was. And they were implying that was because of box office receipts, and lack of financial reasons. That's not who we are. It's got nothing to do with who we are, we are non-profit," Redford said.
"We're not interested in the money of it, that's somebody else's business."
DEATH DOMINATES OPENING DAY
Set in the snow-laden streets of Park City, the Sundance festival, backed by Redford's Sundance Institute, is the premiere U.S. independent film gathering, launching the careers of many influential filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell.
The opening day of Sundance spotlights four films, one from each of the competition categories, that highlight dominant themes within the festival. "Whiplash," an intense drama about a young drummer in the pursuit of perfection in his craft, will represent the U.S. drama competition and ushers in a plethora of movies spanning all of Sundance's competition, premiers and spotlight categories.
In the world drama competition, "Lilting, a film by Cambodian-born British filmmaker Hong Khaou, represents another significant theme running through numerous films this year - death and humanity.
"Lilting" is the story of an aging Chinese mother who loses her son and thus her connection to the foreign world she lives in as she is unable to speak English. But her late son's boyfriend finds a way to connect with her beyond the lingual barrier as they bond over grieving the same man.
Khaou, who moved to England at a young age with his family as political refugees, said he mined deeply personal experiences, from his own mother not speaking English and his father passing away at a young age, to explore the unifying nature of death.
"I wanted to explore how (the mother's) life would be if her lifeline to the outside world was gone, how would she cope. And that is such a rich, fertile ground to explore, because it's all about communication, it's all about language," Khaou told Reuters.
Other films that use death to explore existential crises include "Jamie Marks is Dead," about a boy who dies and returns as a ghost to visit his former classmate, and "Life After Beth," in which a young man must deal with his dead girlfriend returning as a zombie.
One notable film exploring the topic of death through comedy is actor-director Zach Braff's "Wish I was Here," in which a 35-year-old father suffers an existential crisis after his father dies.
The film has already gained publicity after Braff used crowd-sourced financing platform Kickstarter to fund the film, something that Redford said Sundance reflects as digital platforms become more prevalent in day-to-day life.
"Look at all the films in this festival that were financed by Kickstarter. As these (platforms) come, I just want people to know that we go with it and incorporate that into how we see film," he said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Dan Grebler)