Robert Redford launches Sundance with Haiti appeal

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The Independent Culture

Robert Redford kicked off the 26th Sundance Film Festival here Thursday with an appeal for participants at the 10-day event to remember the victims of the devastating Haiti earthquake.

The 73-year-old movie icon, one of the founding fathers of Sundance, the world's biggest independent film festival, made his appeal while speaking at the event's opening press conference in Park City.

"My feeling about Haiti, I think, is pretty much shared by everyone," Redford said. "It's tragic, it's horribly sad. And it's terribly unjust, especially when you look how their life was."

At least 75,000 people were killed in the devastating January 12 earthquake which reduced swathes of the already impoverished Caribbean nation to rubble.

Redford told reporters he was "proud" about "the outpouring of concerns and feelings" of American people. "We are a compassionate people," he said.

He expressed frustration however at the slow pace of the international relief effort, which has seen hundreds of thousands of victims waiting for aid more than one week after the disaster.

"It's like a large boat going into a tiny hole. It just doesn't fit. And that's very frustrating," Redford said.

"This festival was always meant to be fun, loose. And here we are, to celebrate filmmakers. But if we can keep in mind what's happening, the current events in Haiti, that would be good."

Redford said this year would see the festival "return to its roots" as a place where unheralded film-makers could take center stage.

"We have to return to the place where we started," Redford said. "This festival is aimed to provide opportunities for filmmakers".

This year's festival features an intriguing collection of entries in the documentary section, a genre which has enjoyed a striking renaissance over the past decade.

Among the expected highlights this year are "Restrepo," a gritty account of Marines defending a remote base in Afghanistan, which was to open the festival later Thursday.

Redford said documentaries provided the opportunity to explore subjects in greater depth than traditional news media.

"I think that if we take a long view - and in America I think we are a short view country - documentary will allow us to move into areas that have been vacated by the news media," he said.

While Redford is known for his liberal attitudes, he said his personal politics did not influence the line-up of Sundance films.

"On political issues, I can take sides myself, but not the festival. We show the films. That's it," he said.

Other films vying for honors in the US documentary competition are "Bhutto," Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara's depiction of the turbulent life and times of the former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, murdered in December 2007.

Certain to attract interest is "I'm Pat Tillman," Amir Bar Lev's look at the life of the former Arizona Cardinals American football player who gave up his sports career to join the US Army after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

More than 100 documentaries and feature films from America and overseas will be screened during the festival, which draws to a close on January 31.