02.18.09

Inside the Shakeup at Sundance

Geoff Gilmore, the longtime director of the Sundance Film Festival announced he was leaving to run the rival Tribeca. Will Robert DeNiro's festival finally eclipse Robert Redford's?

The biggest job in independent film became available on Tuesday, when Geoff Gilmore, the director of the Sundance Film Festival for the last 19 years, took a job as the chief creative officer with Tribeca Enterprises in New York.

Gilmore's desire to leave Sundance for different (or at least more lucrative) pastures has been rumored for years in the independent film community. But as the indie world has contracted, job options have diminished too.

Nonetheless, the move does mean the independent film world is undergoing some churn, just four days before the Spirit Awards celebrate the best in low-budget filmmaking.

"What was once a small, filmmaker-friendly event is now an expensive behemoth. This economy can't support that infrastructure."

For one thing, Tribeca's hiring of Gilmore is a shot across the bow of the New York Film Festival, which has been a rival of the Tribeca Film Festival since it was launched by of Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro in 2002.

And Gilmore’s departure presents an opportunity for Robert Redford, the moving spirit behind Sundance, to reinvent what has become the most important festival in the independent film world. Despite its stature, or because of it, Sundance has by now outgrown its indie roots; for too long it has been overshadowed by commercialism.

After years of explosive growth, ensuring the festival’s financial stability in these leaner times may also be a challenge. "The bigger question is the fate and direction and finances of the festival," said Tony Safford, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions for Fox Searchlight. "Sundance has become its antithesis. What was once a small, filmmaker-friendly event is now an expensive behemoth. This economy can't support that infrastructure."

As was evident in Park City this year, Sundance has already been struggling to redefine itself for a different era. Under a new leader, a different festival might emerge. Still, Sundance reps denied that his move would shake things up or introduce a re-upped competition with Tribeca.

Read the full story at thewrap.com

Sharon Waxman is an award-winning journalist and author of the recent book Loot. She is the founder and editor in chief of the Hollywood news site TheWrap.com.