Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival has come to a close, and we were there for a lot of great films . . . and some not so great films. We were also part of a round-table interview with John Cooper, festival director, who helped pick the films.

Cooper talked to us about the festival’s role in Park City, Sundance London Film and Music Festival and the recent criticism of the festival by conservative group Sutherland Institute.

The festival is really branching out across the world with Sundance London. Has Sundance outgrown Park City?

“It’s true that I don’t get to look at Park City and go, 'How can we grow this?' like you might in New York or Toronto. So, we had to grow outside of Utah with Sundance Film Festival USA . . . Now, we have to think outside the borders as well.”

In London, music is in the title of the festival. Any chance the festival in Utah will, at some point, incorporate enough music for a title change?

“No . . . We did it at The O2 in London—so, it has to be real music venues. There’s a difference between making screening rooms out of ballrooms and tents and basketball courts and all that, but for musicians, it hast to be a real music venue or it’s just such a workload to get that up and running.”

How have the Salt Lake City screening benefitted the filmmakers?

“The audiences are smart. I meet them throughout the year, too. I think the audiences are warm up here on the mountain, but down there, I think filmmakers truly feel the warmth. Every question is coming from a layman, so it’s not about budgets and how the movie is made—it’s really about the idea behind the film . . . The filmmakers never want to drive down there, but once they do, they love it. They always come back glowing.”

Out of this year’s films, was there anything missing you would have liked to see?

“I’m still interested in those filmmakers who are really rebelling against all norms. The Next section, in particular, this year was amazing . . . Those filmmakers are fierce, and I think they are going to be what independent films are going to start to look like.”

Note: This year’s Next films included Blue Caprice, Computer Chess, Escape From Tomorrow, It Felt Like Love, I Used to Be Darker, Milkshake, Newlyweeds, Pit Stop, A Teacher and This is Martin Bonner.

You mention supporting rebel filmmakers, but at the recent opening press conference, you took a neutral side when the second amendment/gun argument came up. Why?

“I don’t align politically, I align with the stories the filmmakers tell. I would rather talk about why we don’t support the arts more in general. More art makes more tolerance, which makes for a better world. It’s just kind of a simple trajectory in my mind . . . My politics are through what the filmmakers are doing. I don’t program with a political eye.”

What’s your response to the Sutherland Institute saying state funds shouldn't support Sundance?

“We have our own relationship with the community as well. And the community here seems to be really thankful that we’re here, and we get a lot of support from them. So, when they start saying that to me and when audiences say that to me, I’ll listen.”

Half of this year’s competition films were by female directors. Are you pleased with that outcome?

“I’m pleased that it happened all naturally . . . You don’t ever want to get into the thing where you do something one year and say what’s going to happen the next year, but we’ll program the festival out of what’s best next year no matter what.”