Here's the thing: everyone assumes that Robert Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place every January in Park City, Utah. After all, he named the event after his cowpoke alter ego in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and he's the sandy-haired man who escorted the event to international prominence. It's a good thing too. Had co-star Paul Newman fancied the job, awareness of the festival would have struggled to reach beyond John Waters and The Village People. Think about it.
In any case, the festival was around long before Redford seized the reins. Way back in 1978 the Utah Film Commission brought you the awkwardly titled The Utah/United States Film Festival. It was held in Salt Lake City, the heart of Mormon country, as a way to lure tourists. Apparently the city's huge saltpan wasn't much of a draw. Throw in some popcorn and a smattering of A-List celebs, though, and you've got yourself a partaaay! Well, as much of a party as is allowable under The State of Utah's Draconian liquor laws...
"THE ONLY PLACE YOU CAN BUY A BEER IN UTAH"
In truth, putting The Utah/United States Film Festival on the map wasn't easy. In the early years it centred around retrospective presentations and seminars, which is only fun if you like that sort of thing, or if you're drunk. Unfortunately, as we've already seen, the latter option is barely legal in Utah. The whole affair was as dry as the aforementioned lake and the national competition - aimed at drawing attention to emerging American independent film - felt a little too worthy.
It wasn't until golden boy Robert Redford founded The Sundance Institute in 1981 that the festival established real purpose. The institute was set up to actively engage aspiring filmmakers, with the festival becoming a forum for that newly unearthed talent. By this time proceedings had relocated to the nearby mountain resort of Park City, a Mecca for snow freaks (connotations of recreational drug use, unintentional) and pretty much the only place you can buy a beer in Utah. Coincidence?
By 1991 the shebang had been officially renamed The Sundance Film Festival and developed a reputation for championing indie titles to box office success. Think Steven Soderbergh and his 1989 Sundance entry Sex, Lies And Videotape, and what about Quentin Tarantino and his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs? Not only did QT premiere the film at Sundance, he also produced it with formal guidance from the Sundance Institute. It's no wonder then that, year on year, the popularity of The Sundance Film Festival has snowballed to make it officially 'hip and happening'. Oh, and the beer helped too.