Seats fill for films

April 12, 2007

A celebration of Vietnamese moviemaking is turning three, and organizers expect its biggest audiences yet.

Seats fill for films

Seats fill for films
ALL IN THE DELIVERY: Johnny Nguyen delivers a punishing kick to a villain in “The Rebel,” which makes its world premiere Thursday in Irvine at the third Vietnamese International Film Festival.

“THE REBEL”: Johnny Nguyen, left, and Ngo Thanh Van star in the movie, the third feature film from Buena Park resident Charlie Nguyen. The movie was a special accomplishment for Nguyen because of the troubles the cast and crew endured in Vietnam, he said.

Seats fill for films
READY FOR THE CROWDS: Actors Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, movie director Charlie Nguyen and film festival co-director Ysa Le, from left. ANDY TEMPLETON, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The Orange County Register

One of Charlie Nguyen’s big dreams is coming true this week.

The Buena Park resident’s feature film “The Rebel” is making its world premiere Thursday at the Vietnamese International Film Festival. It’s Nguyen’s third movie, and it’s also the third incarnation of the biennial film fest. By all accounts, the festival is getting larger and more influential each year.

The third Vietnamese International Film Festival, called “ViFF” by organizers and participants, runs Thursday through Sunday and April 19-22. Most films screen at UC Irvine’s Film and Video Center, with the opening movie at Edwards University in Irvine.

What started as a joint project between two area Vietnamese-American nonprofit organizations has become one of the nation’s largest gatherings for Vietnamese cinema and a launching pad for aspiring filmmakers.

“ViFF has always been our supporter from the very beginning,” said Nguyen, 39, who grew up in Orange County and graduated from Garden Grove High School.

“To make ‘The Rebel,’ we needed a lot of support from peers and friends, and ViFF was the portal through which all of our support came from. It’s sort of like a cradle for Vietnamese filmmakers in the community.”

The Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association and the VietNamese Language and Culture organization at UCLA started the film festival in October 2003 by showing previously released films. It has grown into a popular gathering for the local Vietnamese community, with 51 films, social events and new movies making world and national premieres. About 5,000 attendees are anticipated this year.

“This is the biggest ever,” said Ysa Le, festival co-director. “There definitely has been growth. We see a younger generation of filmmakers with energy and new work. It’s a very diverse group.”

Opening picture “The Rebel” is a rare Vietnamese action and martial arts drama set in the 1920s. The film, in Vietnamese with English subtitles, was shot in Vietnam last year and stars Johnny Nguyen (Charlie’s younger brother), Ngo Thanh Van and Dustin Nguyen (no relation), whose first breakout role was in television’s “21 Jump Street.”

“I have been wanting to work in Vietnam,” said Dustin Nguyen, who plays the villain Sy – his first turn as an antagonist and his first acting job in Vietnamese. “It’s extremely important there are festivals to promote and encourage Vietnamese-American artists to make films. Otherwise, there’s really not an outlet to learn or see films.”

“The Rebel’s” cast and crew shot for 80 days in Vietnam, whose film industry is still playing catch-up with Hollywood’s and Hong Kong’s. They had to deal with a number of obstacles, including crew members who got sick, actors who got hurt and cultural police officers who monitored every move.

“We overcame a lot of difficulties,” Charlie Nguyen said. “There were tons of disasters and obstacles. It was a labor of love for a lot of people. So it’s something that we all feel very proud of.”

Other new films that have been attracting buzz include “Dust of Life,” “The White Silk Dress” and “Journey From the Fall,” a saga about re-education camps and refugees that had a national release last month.

“We’ve seen the success of ‘Journey from the Fall’ in the theaters,” Le said. “Vietnamese cinema is getting attention. Other films will follow and get the spotlight as well.”

And the filmmakers attending this festival are ready for their chance to shine.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or


Actor Johnny Tri Nguyen (L) and actress Ngo Thanh Van in a scene of Dong mau anh hung (the Rebel)  

The Vietnamese International Film Festival 2007 (ViFF) is set to open in America from Apr. 12-22, reflecting the lives of Vietnamese around the world via the eyes of talented filmmakers.

The third biennial ViFF welcomes a record number of films this year – a total of 51, including 13 features submitted by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent from around the world.

ViFF 2007 will open with the world premiere of the visually stunning martial arts drama, The Rebel, directed by Charlie Nguyen on April 12 and close with the warm-hearted feature debut, Owl and the Sparrow, directed by Stephane Gauger on April 22.

The Spotlight Program on April 14 will showcase screenwriter, Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc, whose work is featured in the film Song trong so hai (Living in Fear) directed by Bui Thac Chuyen.

Six made-in-Vietnam features, including Chuyen cua Pao (Pao’s story), Song trong so hai (Living in Fear), Hon Truong Ba da hang thit (Souls on swing), Hat mua roi bao lau (Bride of Silence), Ao lua Ha Dong (the White silk dress), and Dong mau anh hung (the Rebel) will be showcased at the festival.

Established in October 2003, ViFF aims to support and promote cinema by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent.

ViFF’s mission is to inspire future filmmakers and recognize existing ones as well as to provide a forum for the filmmakers to share their experiences with colleagues and audiences.

Organized by the non-profit Vietnamese-American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) and the Vietnamese Language and Culture (VNLC) at University of California, Los Angeles, this year’s festival theme is Sharing Visions, echoing the need for Vietnamese cinema to extend its reach beyond the Vietnamese communities to the larger, global audience.

Screenings will be held mainly at University of California, Irvine (UCI)’s Film & Video Center with selected screening panel discussions at UCLA and in Westminster, California on two consecutive weekends from April 12-15 & 19-22. Opening Night will be held at the Edwards University Cinema 6, Irvine.


Actor Johnny Tri Nguyen (L) and actress Ngo Thanh Van in a scene of Dong Mau Anh Hung (the Rebel).

The Vietnamese International Film Festival 2007 (ViFF) is set to open in America from April 12-22, reflecting the lives of Vietnamese around the world via the eyes of talented filmmakers. 

The third biennial ViFF welcomes a record number of films this year – a total of 51, including 13 features submitted by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent from around the world.

ViFF 2007 will open with the world premiere of the visually stunning martial arts drama, The Rebel, directed by Charlie Nguyen on April 12 and close with the warm-hearted feature debut, Owl and the Sparrow, directed by Stephane Gauger on April 22.

The Spotlight Programme on April 14 will showcase screenwriter, Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc, whose work is featured in the film ‘Song Trong So Hai’ (Living in Fear) directed by Bui Thac Chuyen.

Six made-in-Vietnam features, including ‘Chuyen cua Pao’ (Pao’s Story), ‘Song Trong So Hai’ (Living in Fear), ‘Hon Truong Ba Da Hang Thit’ (Souls on Swing), ‘Hat Mua Roi Bao Lau’ (Bride of Silence), ‘Ao Lua Ha Dong’ (The White Silk Dress), and ‘Dong Mau Anh Hung’ (The Rebel) will be showcased at the festival.

Established in October 2003, ViFF aims to support and promote cinema by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent.

ViFF’s mission is to inspire future filmmakers and recognise existing ones as well as to provide a forum for the filmmakers to share their experiences with colleagues and audiences.

Organised by the non-profit Vietnamese-American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) and the Vietnamese Language and Culture (VNLC) at University of California, Los Angeles, this year’s festival theme is Sharing Visions, echoing the need for Vietnamese cinema to extend its reach beyond the Vietnamese communities to the larger, global audience.

Screenings will be held mainly at University of California, Irvine (UCI)’s Film & Video Centre with selected screening panel discussions at UCLA and in Westminster, California on two consecutive weekends from April 12-15 & 19-22. Opening Night will be held at the Edwards University Cinema 6, Irvine

(Thanh Nien)

16:48′ 05/12/2006 (GMT+7)
VietnamNetBridge – On the evening of November 30, Hai Yen flew to Estonia to be on the jury of the Tallinn Black Nights film festival.

Soạn: HA 975717 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này

The 24 year-old actress won a prize for acting from the Vietnam film association and a prize at the recent Asia film festival. She was the star of the movie “Chuyện của Pao” (Pao’s story), which has been shown in over 10 international film festivals including Fukuoka, Pusan, NHK and China Golden in 2006. The movie was one of the top five movies at the World Montreal film festival.

Hai Yen said that it was difficult for Vietnamese movies in general and Chuyện của Pao in particular to win prizes at top international festivals. Films made by other countries are of better quality as a result of capital investment and superior human resources.

Chuyen cua Pao has been shown at ten famous universities in America and will be presented in 12 more this December.

At the moment, Hai Yen and her film team have been preparing for Mùa Hè lạnh lẽo (Cold summer) – to be shot in January 2007.

(Source: TT&VH)


Actress Truong Ngoc Anh and director
Luu Huynh at Busan Film Festival.

Vietnamese film ‘Ao Lua Ha Dong’ (The White Silk Dress) won audience vote prize of the Busan International Film Festival.

The prize presentation ceremony was held on October 20 in Busan.

The film’s director Luu Huynh came on the stage to receive the prize.

The White Silk Dress, a five-year production with a value of over US$2 million is the most expensive film ever made in Vietnam, relates the misfortunes of its two central characters, Dan and her humpbacked husband, and their efforts to hold on to a precious Ha Dong silk dress that belonged to Dan’s mother.

The film was shot in Vietnam’s northern and central regions and one of its scenes needed recreating a flood.

The filmmakers had to blockade a village in Hoi An. A dam surrounding the village was set up using thousands of sand-bags and water was pumped in to give the impression of a flood. More than 1,000 extras were used for the evacuation scenes.

Ao Lua Ha Dong is the first Vietnamese film to use the ‘flying-cam’ technique, which was achieved by hiring American and Singaporean technicians.

At Cannes 2005, an extended trailer of Ao Lua Ha Dong impressed audiences with its beautiful scenes and unique Vietnamese style imagery.


In the film 'Bamboo Prosthesis' which won a prize at 28th Tokyo Video Festival.

Amateur Vietnamese video makers will be among the contestants at the 29th Tokyo Video Festival next year.

TVF has grown strongly to become the world’s biggest video festival with more than 40,000 entries from 87 countries and has introduced a number of high-grade videos to the world, each produced in the personal style special to this media.

Amateurs can submit their videos of less than 20 minutes on topics like family relations, social issues, education, culture and environment before the deadline of September 30.

The Tokyo Video Festival began in 1978 a quarter of a century ago by the Japanese-based JVC Corporation, a maker of electronic products, which has sought to popularise video.

The annual TVF is a world festival of citizens’ video where ordinary people can use a video camcorder to express their own ideas and opinions.

Vietnam began to participate in the TVF festival in 2004 with 17 entries.

Previous award winners from Vietnam have included Lam Thanh Quy for Con Di Tren Vet Tre Tron (Bamboo Prosthesis), Pham Viet Phuoc for Nha Tien Tri Ao (Imaginary Prophet) and To Hong Hai for Xin Dung De Mam Song Lui Tan (Please Do Not Let Live Seeds Perish).

Two Vietnamese documentaries by female directors took home excellence prizes at the 28th Tokyo Video Festival with film Vuot Doc (Overcome the Slope) by To Cam and Huong Hoa Giua Doi Thuong (the Scent of Normal Life) by Viet Oanh.

The organisers will award 500,000 yen (US$4,406) for the first prize, 400,000 yen ($3,524) for the second prizes and 100,000 yen ($850) for the third on February 2007 in Tokyo.

For more information, access the website at or contact 088 478 755. (VNS)

   04/29/2006 — 21:56(GMT+7)

Mexico (VNA) – Two Vietnamese films, "Mua Len Trau" (Buffalo Boy) and "Nguoi dan ba mong du" (Sleep-walking Woman), were screened at  the opening day of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) film festival in Mexico City on April 28.

Addressing the ceremony, Vietnamese Ambassador to Mexico Le Van Thinh expressed his belief that the festival will play a bridge role in deepening understanding of Mexican people about landscapes, people, culture and history of ASEAN countries in general and Viet Nam in particular.

The week-long event, co-hosted by Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino and Thai embassies in Mexico, will air a number of motion pictures of Southeast Asian countries, which features their cultural diversity.-Enditem.

Fusion Asian Cinema at Silver Lake Film Festival 06

Little Tokyo (Downtown LA)

March 24-26


Asian isn't wasabi on your mahi-mahi. This year’s Fusion Asian Cinema
program at the SLFF includes eight features, seven documentaries, and
five short films from nine countries. These superb Asian films are
blurring the lines of national borders within the transcultural
wave—films whose universality of themes and images make them readily
accessible to an American audience.


Screenings are held from March 24th – 26th at the JACCC/Aratani Japan America Theatre ( and The National Center for The Preservation of Democracy (


addition, there are parties for ticket holders at the NCPD and Crewest
Gallery, music events at Little Radio, free drinks at Little Pedro, and
much more. Visit for event update.



Special Discount for VC members:

“Visual Communications” and receive 15% discount on your film passes
when you purchase tickets at the ticket box on film days.



March 24 (Friday): US Premiere

Retrospective – Nobuo Nakagawa, The Maestro of Japanese Horror Films


Nakagawa's retro horror masterpieces from the 1950's and 1960's
transcend the horror genre with their masterful creativity. His film
style gave us the glimpse into some fascinating cinematic art that
influences the contemporary Japanese horror genre. Coming straight from
the Berlin Film Festival, this is the U.S. Premiere of Nakagawa's
series of four signature films on new prints with English subtitles: A
Wicked Woman, Hell, Mansion of the Ghost Cat, and Ghost Story of


Don't miss the first and only day this series is shown in the U.S.A.!

Read film descriptions at



March 25 (Saturday): Cult Fusion


transcultural wave is on full display starting with a Bollywood action
flick, EK Ajnabee, a Hollywood remake that took place in Bangkok, along
with groundbreaking shorts Cut and Magical Wash Machine from Asia's
most promising young filmmakers, Royston Tan and Robin Lee. U.S.
premieres from South Korea's lesser known but growing horror scene
include bone-chilling Antarctic Journal and ghosty Red Eye. Cult Fusion
is heightened with LA premiere of Clean, a film by French filmmaker
Olivier Assayas and starring Cannes Films Festival's Best Actress Award
winner Maggie Cheung.


Read film descriptions at



March 26 (Sunday): Documentaries & Special Projects


program wraps up with a series of emotionally engaging documentaries:
The Last Rice Farmers, one of the brightest gems of Taiwan's vibrant
documentary scene; Annyong Sayonara, which deals with the post-war
Korean-Japanese relationship; and four short documentaries from
JEEVIKA, the South Asian Livelihood Documentary Festival in New Delhi,
India; each center on the struggles of men and women with a
working-class livelihood. Cui Zi'en, the first openly gay filmmaker to
emerge from China, brings us a feature about male prostitution in China
that walks the line between documentary and fiction, Night Scene. The
final FAC highlight is a series of digital shorts by three preeminent
Asian filmmakers commissioned by South Korea's Jeonju International
Film Festival: Shinya Tsukamoto's Haze, Song Il-gong's Magicians, and
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Worldly Desires.


Read film descriptions at



The Fusion Asian Cinema Program is curated by Erika Kao-Haley and supported by:



Location:  San Jose Camera 12
201 South Second Street, San Jose, CA View Map 
When:  Saturday, March 25, 2:00pm
Assocation for Viet Arts is proud to co-present the San Jose Asian
Film Festival.

Hebrew speaking Vietnamese? Come to a special screening in San Jose
of The Journey of Vaan Nguyen and meet the director after the
screening! More information at the event.

Sunday's schedule at 4:30PM: Kieu


March 25, 2006 @ 2pm
The Journey of Vaan Nguyen

Director: Duki Dror
Producer: Yael Shavit
Writer: Violette Shitzer

US Premiere
Israel 2005 | 84 mins | Color Video | Vietnamese, Hebrew w/E.S.

The unheard story of Israel's Vietnamese refugee community is told
through the experiences of two members of the same family, separated
by generations but united by a desire for "home." Hanmoi Nguyen, a
man who fled Vietnam and now lives in the "Land of the Jews" with
five Hebrew-speaking daughters, desires to return to his village,
reclaim his ancestral land and confront the man who forced him to
flee. His daughter Vaan, a writer increasingly alienated from
Israeli society, joins her father's journey, hoping to find a new
life, and a sense of belonging, in a land she barely knows.

March 26, 2006 @ 4:30pm

Director: Vũ T. Thu Hà
Producers: Vũ T. Thu Hà, Debbie Ng
Writers: Lisa Asagi, Maiana Minahal, Ly-Hương Nguyễn, Jackie Vũ
Cast: Kathy Uyên, Christopher Đình

World Premiere
USA 2006 | 75 mins | Color Video | English, Vietnamese w/E.S.

IN PERSON: Vũ T. Thu Hà, Kathy Uyên

KIỀU bursts open like a flower one colorful Mission morning as the
lovely heroine steps out for the day. Waving to her goldfish, she
flirts with the smitten greengrocer and mulls over the election at
the flower shop. But as day moves into night, and the bus takes her
into the Tenderloin, we see that Kiều works at an "Oriental" massage
parlor, desperately making money to send to her family in Vietnam.
In one 24-hour slice of her life, a shocking encounter threatens to
destroy Kiều's carefully compartmentalized existence, and bring
forth the ghosts of her past.

Click here to find out more!

Creativity Regained

Robert Redford happens to be a movie star, but he’s the star who founded an enterprise that changed an industry. Along the way, this very successful entrepreneur developed theories of innovation and creativity that will inspire you and improve your business, too.

From: Inc. Magazine, September 2003 |  Page  By: Stephen H. Zades

Two hours after meeting Robert Redford, I fear I have already let him down. Redford has suggested we tour his 6,000-acre complex in Sundance, Utah, on horseback, and that is clearly how these wild western mountains are meant to be viewed. But horses terrify me — always have — and while I yearn to saddle up with the Sundance Kid in a prototypical act of male bonding…I just can’t. Redford is nice as can be about it, and soon we are trekking along a footpath leading away from Sundance Village, surrounded by tall pines and wooded canyons. And I am glad we are on foot because it means I can give Redford my full attention as he talks about how it feels to build something from nothing, and how he encourages the people he works with to do that day after day after day.

Fit and rugged in blue jeans and running shoes, Redford points to the rockwork on the village restaurant. “Sweat equity!” he declares. “I did a lot of the work myself. And when you do something by hand — it’s just different.” The pride in his voice is quintessentially entrepreneurial, which isn’t surprising: Redford is the quintessential entrepreneur. The birth legend of Sundance is positively Lincoln-esque: In 1961, the then-24-year-old actor bought two acres of land for $500 and built a log cabin there. Today Sundance is an international enterprise that includes a cable channel, a DVD/video line, a retail catalog, a resort, and — as its nucleus — a not-for-profit institute that is part artists’ colony, part R&D shop and that also produces the annual Sundance Film Festival. All of it, says Redford, furthers a single goal: “the sponsoring of a process that will allow people to have new visions and new voices.”

“Do you think the world was created by an accountant?” Redford asks me. “No! The universe was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos started everything. Then order came on top of that.”

If new voices and visions are the “products” of Sundance, they are products whose success most businesspeople would envy. Sundance, after all, is among the very few organizations that can credibly claim to have pioneered a market: the market for independent film, which continues to withstand the hurricane force of Hollywood sequels, event movies, and saturation marketing. Its film and theater labs have helped develop such groundbreaking work as Raising Victor Vargas, Boys Don’t Cry, Reservoir Dogs, Requiem for a Dream, Love & Basketball, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Angels in America, I Am My Own Wife, and The Laramie Project. And Sundance has contributed to the emergence of a constellation of artists that includes Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders, John Cameron Mitchell, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Craig Lucas, Tony Kushner, and Julie Taymor.

Nor is the organization doing badly by standards unrelated to art. In a nation where so many projects and products fail, 35% of projects developed in the Sundance Filmmakers Lab and 85% of its Theater Lab projects make it to production — in other words, producers outside Sundance consider them promising enough to finance and complete. That’s more than 85 feature films in 22 years. The brand is so well recognized it has become shorthand for independent filmmaking. There’s a Sundance shelf in more than 4,000 Blockbuster stores.

Redford has also built commercial enterprises — some of them profitable — that further his goal of creating venues for innovative work. (Sundance does not release revenue figures.) The Sundance Channel, launched in 1996 as a joint venture by Redford, Showtime Networks, and Universal Studios, has grown steadily and now has 16.7 million subscribers, according to Kagan World Media. (The market-leading Independent Film Channel has 26.8 million subscribers.) A documentary channel is on the way, and a new Sundance Film Series is rolling out in 10 major markets this fall. Redford has also speculated about launching an investment arm and even a production company, in essence becoming a full-fledged manufacturer of the products Sundance now develops and markets.

“Redford is a proven, smart, savvy entrepreneur,” says Dale Pollock, veteran Hollywood producer and dean of the filmmaking department at North Carolina’s School of the Arts. “The business potential is enormous. Sundance has the best brand name and the ability to expand its audience base.

“How large the indie film niche can become, I don’t think anyone really knows,” says Pollock. “As for profitability, it may not be huge by mainstream Hollywood standards yet. But it’s growing significantly, and Sundance is the lead player positioned in the right way.”

Such prolificacy is not the consequence of mountain air or movie star charisma. Rather it springs from Redford’s unshakable belief that growth is not an accounting practice but a creative process. And that goes not just for the entertainment industry, but also for ordinary companies that make sunscreen and software and ceiling fans. “The more I got involved with business, the more I got shocked at how dumb a lot of businesses were. Even the ones that had so much money,” Redford says. “And, it’s because they lacked a creative, imaginative approach. That’s why I got taken with people like Steve Jobs and [Patagonia founder] Yvon Chouinard and [Smith & Hawken founder] Paul Hawken, who understood exactly how important business is but also understood the role of the creative.

“Do you think the earth was created by an accountant?” Redford asks me. “No! The earth was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos are what started everything. Then order came on top of that.”

It is to study Sundance’s own creative explosion that I am here. And while I hate to digress, I think at this point I should say a word about myself and why I believe business can learn so much from Sundance.

First — and let’s just get this out of the way — I’m a businessperson, not a journalist. For most of the ’90s I was CEO of Long Haymes Carr (LHC), an advertising firm in Winston-Salem, N.C., that in three years grew from the 100th largest U.S. agency to the 50th. One tool we used to differentiate ourselves was Creative Odyssey — a series of magical mystery tours to cities like New York, London, and New Orleans where our clients and employees immersed themselves in the leading edge of pop culture. We met with people like graffiti artists and chaos theory physicists to experience new perspectives. We escorted Fortune 1000 CEOs to hip-hop stores and encouraged them to buy chartreuse sandals with four-inch heels and flame-toed Doc Martens and wear them on the subway. Again and again we found that most of the ideas and strategies for our breakthroughs came from sources outside the business world.

Then one day our corporate parent announced it was consolidating our agency…ultimately out of existence. Disillusioned and reluctant to return quickly to corporate life, I began looking around the business world for my next opportunity. What I saw wasn’t pretty.

This was the fall of 2001, a time when corporate misjudgments and miscreants were ubiquitous on the news. Everywhere companies were slowing down, stopping, shifting into reverse. I saw the artificial growth of acquisitions and book-cooking collapsing everywhere, but no sustainable, organic growth based on the invention of genuinely new markets, products, and services. Where was the real top-line growth, I wondered? Had management forgotten how to do it? Was business losing the ability?

Organic growth, it seemed to me, required something I’ve come to think of as “imaginative intelligence”: the ability to convert the raw material of experience and insight across disciplines of knowledge into inventive work. Having experienced something like that on LHC’s Odysseys, I wondered whether others had figured out how to build imaginative intelligence into their processes and organizations. I cashed in my frequent-flier miles and gave myself a year to find out.

“When you have the good fortune to have success in your life,” says Redford, “that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself.”

Together with my colleague Jane Stephens I launched the Odyssey Project, a wide-ranging exploration of organic growth focused on 30 innovation leaders in diverse fields. Creative Odyssey had taught me the value of seeking answers from nonobvious sources, so I excluded destinations like Intel, Apple, and Southwest Airlines from my itinerary. Instead I traveled to Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, which pioneered the idea of growing exclusively through conversion, and Antenna Theater, an experimental stage company in San Francisco that found commercial success creating interpretive audio programs for museums and parks. Rather than try to meet with Peter Drucker or Gary Hamel, I interviewed T. George Harris, the maverick editor of Psychology Today who broke ground in developing interest-specific journalism, Dan Yankelovich, who reinvented public polling with the Yankelovich Monitor, and the poet Maya Angelou.

Finally I landed here, at Sundance. And in this place most people associate with celebrity and conservation, I discovered the purest example of sustained innovation and creative organizational culture I had yet seen.

The not-for-profit Sundance Institute nurtures creativity in writers and filmmakers; folks you’d think wouldn’t need the assist. But you would be wrong. Just consider what those filmmakers were putting out, chiefly under the aegis of Hollywood, before Redford, in true change agent style, forged the marketplace for independent movies. Films like Sex, Lies and Videotape may have wedged open the door, but without a constant flow of new — and not just new but exciting — products that door would have closed. For independent film to become a movement, later an industry, artists had to recover their voices, or learn they had them in the first place. It is the same challenge facing engineers, designers, and others who staff R&D efforts in industries and companies suffering from an idea drought.

For more than 20 years the Sundance Institute has churned out original ideas with the regularity of sausage. I wanted to know how it did that. So I spent five days at Sundance, sitting in on workshops with filmmakers, interviewing staff members at length, and talking with successful alumni.

Most important, I listened to Redford.

It is routine, in matters of art, to say the creation mirrors the mind of the creator. Sundance is not a work of art — it is an organization with employees, budgets, and multiple commercial and noncommercial arms — but it mirrors Redford’s mind as exactly as if he had dreamed it and then drawn it upon waking. To understand Sundance, therefore, one must first understand Redford. And in getting to know the man, I glimpsed Sundance’s first lesson for entrepreneurs: that the key to a constantly innovating organization is a constantly innovating founder.

Redford is always restless, and his appetite for fresh thought is enormous. “When you have the good fortune to have success in your life, I’ve always thought that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. You should go right back to zero as though nothing had happened and start again,” says Redford. “Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself or get to that danger point when you could ride on that success or try to repeat it. Repetition makes me very nervous.”

Redford created the Sundance Institute, in part, to combat the deadening repetition that he saw stifling the film industry. But it was his instincts for nurturing creativity in others that has made it thrive.

Like all entrepreneurs, Redford has been guided by a vision. Unlike most, he doesn’t compromise it.

That may sound hopelessly unrealistic to most founders, who would argue — reasonably — that for the overwhelming majority of folks who aren’t Robert Redford financial and commercial pressures are tough to withstand. But Redford feels those pressures too: “It’s been a struggle, and it continues to be a struggle. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons,” he says. And of course when he began to envision Sundance back in 1966, Redford wasn’t Redford either. The young actor built his first log cabin in the Provo Canyon as a kind of sanctuary. As his attachment to the valley grew, Redford worried about the future of the land — threatened by development — and of the industry in which he worked. America’s entertainment culture was becoming increasingly impoverished: Redford saw independent film as its best hope. In Sundance, he envisioned an organization that would be a double sanctuary, a creative vortex where art and nature could flourish.

To build such an organization, Redford had to learn about business, which he did the same way he learned everything else — by observing, guessing, and revising. “I surprised myself early on by growing really fascinated with business,” says Redford. “I had bought the land, and I had to make deals with banks, and I had to make payments, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to learn fast.

“It became like an acting exercise,” Redford continues. “I had to act like I was a normal human being. I had to act like I was more conservative than I was. I had to act like I knew about business. It was challenging and fun.”

As a business, Sundance got off to a rocky start. The first thing Redford wanted to do was buy land — lots of it. His plan was to start with a resort that would generate enough money to make the loan payments without compromising the area’s natural beauty. But when he invited investors out to Provo, all they saw was real estate. Those partners bought the land with him but not the vision. Laughing, Redford speculates what they were thinking: “Redford’s out of his mind — he doesn’t have a clue about business. As soon as we get into the deal, he’ll learn real fast what the story is and he’ll submit to real estate [development] right off the bat!” They were wrong. Even with payments looming, Redford refused to sell off subdivisions, and his partners eventually gave in.

If Redford’s fellow investors had any doubts about his attitude toward compromise those doubts soon vanished. The partners wanted to build a restaurant next to the ski lift, the obvious spot since it would get the most traffic. “No, no, no,” Redford recalls himself saying. “Let’s give it its own space, let people wander and discover it.” But there was a tree smack in the middle of Redford’s proposed site. “Well, that’s great!” Redford said. “We’ll build it around the tree and call it the Tree Room.”

His partners balked. “According to the formula, you’ll lose 12 eating-places,” they argued. “Then 12 fewer people will eat,” Redford responded.

Soon after that, Redford’s partners sold their interests, and Redford assumed the whole load in 1970. “They realized I was an impossible partner — and they were right,” he says. Redford and three friends built the restaurant by hand for $19,000. There were many problems. The original partners had made a bad deal on the land, “and we bought it from a sheepherder,” says Redford. Even the tree died. But Redford planted another tree, and today the Tree Room is profitable and recognized as one of the finest restaurants in the state. “I just believed we could do something incorporating the environment that would make it more meaningful, and they believed you had to put the environment away from it and go straight to business,” says Redford.

“You have to think not only revenue, but the quality of that revenue,” Redford says. It is a philosophy he has never abandoned.

Under a brilliant blue sky the village of Sundance is framed by conservation land lush with ponderosa pine and quaking aspen. Once an isolated canyon and the sacred hunting and storytelling ground of the Ute tribe, the area remains serenely quiet. The loudest sound is rushing water, still high from the spring runoff from snow-spired Mount Timpanogos.

Sundance’s rough-sawn post-and-beam structures include a rehearsal hall, screening room, outdoor amphitheater, general store, the Tree Room restaurant, the Owl Bar, and cottages. Intimate in scale, the buildings are connected by simple paths and footbridges. Their rich natural hues blend easily with the colors of the land.

Not to be confused with the famous Sundance Film Festival held each winter in nearby Park City, the programs of the Sundance Institute are housed chiefly in this village, among the first simple structures Redford built more than 20 years ago. The institute is the engine behind Redford’s vision, a carefully tended, highly productive series of experimental labs and mentoring programs offered year-round for emerging and professional directors, screenwriters, playwrights, composers, and theater artists. Individually and together, they are making a stand against formulaic entertainment.

In movies today, “there’s a kind of soullessness, a blandness, a homogenization of story, of character in order to attempt to please everyone,” says actor-director Stanley Tucci, an institute alumni who spoke to me by phone while filming in New York. Redford puts it this way: “Film viewing is extremely impersonal now; it’s almost hostile. You have 40 screens. You usher people in and out as quickly as possible to get in as many [shows] per day [as possible]. The real money is made in the concessions.”

Hollywood, in other words, is a Raisinets economy. It was to combat that growing homogenization that Redford established the institute in 1981 as an incubator for raw talent and divergent visions. In the early years, the actor supported the institute out of his own personal wealth. Today 35% of its $15 million budget comes from the Sundance Film Festival and the rest derives from sponsors, grants, and private contributions.

Between six and eight fellows for the Feature Film Lab are chosen from more than 3,000 applications and scripts and receive room, board, and equipment at a cost to the organization of up to $75,000 each. In labs that last anywhere from four days to four weeks they get the chance to rehearse, shoot, edit, and rework scenes under the guidance of creative advisers — often institute alumni — and with the input of other fellows, staff, and Redford himself. The goal is to leave the institute with a rough edited reel of four or five scenes from their screenplays, but they take away more. “The experience at the Sundance Institute was a creative epiphany about how to solve my first film,” says writer/director Miguel Arteta, whose debut, Star Maps, won him a lucrative deal with Fox Searchlight. Arteta’s next projects, Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to studios.

The institute chooses fellows carefully, as does any organization that relies on its people for energy and ideas. What it is chiefly looking for, Redford says, is “voice.” Visionary business leaders — Jobs, Chouinard, Jeff Bezos, Ralph Lauren — bestow something of their characters upon their companies, but as organizations grow their founders’ voices grow fainter. In the end, organizations draw their voices (their real voices — not those manufactured by professional brand builders) from their members. In a world of easy imitation, Redford recognizes, voice can be a potent differentiator.

“When you have the good fortune to have success in your life,” says Redford, “that is precisely the time you should reinvent yourself. Because you can get real stale. You can fall in love with yourself.”

One way the institute staff fosters voice is by selecting fellows based on their raw ideas — scripts, a rough 10 minutes of film — rather than on their resumés. Michelle Satter, director of the feature film program and a guiding force at the Sundance Institute, describes the ideal: “a script or a short film so unique or with a story that hasn’t been told, that only that artist could tell.”

One thing Satter, who is the architect of the institute process, doesn’t weigh is the commercial prospects of an applicant’s idea. Indeed, market-focus groups are verboten at Sundance, as perhaps they should be in any business that truly values innovation. Consumer research, says Michael Lehmann, a veteran film director and longtime creative adviser to Sundance, is what makes Hollywood movies Hollywood movies. “Studios are first and foremost market-driven: They work backwards,” says Lehmann. “They try to figure out what audiences want and give it to them. Beyond that they’re not sure what to do.” Sundance reverses the process and begins with the unique visions of the artists it supports.

Then, as they work, fellows are constantly urged away from proven solutions and toward experiments. Granted, it isn’t difficult for the institute to encourage risk-taking since it expects no direct financial return from its investment in talent. Still, the Sundance brand is built on developing and promoting work Hollywood wouldn’t gamble on: Sundance without risk would cease to be Sundance. So while breakthrough ideas are more common here than at most organizations, so are disappointments and dead ends. And that’s okay. “The worst day of this lab, the day you feel you’ve fallen on your face, will be the best day of the lab because that will be your greatest learning moment,” Satter says. “You may fail, you may fly, but you’ll move on and learn.”

Fellows appreciate that support, and they are also motivated by the many opportunities to have their work seen, which after all is what most creative people want. Sundance has developed multiple platforms, such as the festival, cable channels, and new film series, to showcase innovation wherever it springs up and cheerfully helps fellows make connections outside the Sundance mantle as well. “It’s about getting the ideas out, it’s about getting the work seen,” says Ken Brecher, executive director of the Sundance Institute. “If the work finds its way to a Sundance platform, that’s great. If it finds its way to another platform, that’s also great.”

“The labs and film festival are the twin engines that drive the whole deal,” says North Carolina’s Pollock. But “the entire Sundance family of organizations is synergistic and holistic. Each entity uniquely builds the value of the whole.”

You can learn a lot about an organization by the language people use to describe what they do: whether they speak in acronyms or jargon or generics. The language of Sundance, not surprisingly, reflects its artistic purpose, but also the tools it uses to promote original thinking and inventive solutions to problems. The Sundance lexicon includes sketchpad, generosity, story, conversation, and contradiction — words that are foreign to business but, I believe, fundamental to innovation. Here is how they are used at Sundance.

Sketchpad: The Sundance Institute is rugged. Veteran directors haul equipment; movie stars carry their own food and sleep in cabins; everyone moves tables and chairs. The environment is enriched by what is not there as much as by what is. “When I started the institute there was no place for the artists to work,” says Redford. “I mean it was raw here. They worked in the ski patrol house, the firehouse, and the maintenance shed. I was kind of embarrassed by what was here, but it was all I could afford to do.

“Later on though,” says Redford, “I realized we’d done something very right.” The primitive conditions forced the artists to be resourceful, to improvise, to stretch and experiment more fully.

Certainly Sundance could have built the slickest sound stages and editing facilities, but Redford and his staff believe that would push the filmmakers too close too soon to a finished product, and that that threatens originality. “We need to get away from preciousness, of having to have everything right,” says Satter. “The workshop scenes [shot by the fellows] are deliberately primitive in terms of production values and design. It is process, not product, that is the cornerstone of the work.”

Contradiction: A fellow lies on his back on an old couch inside an editing trailer. Hands over face. Exhausted and exhilarated. “You take your medicine and you build on it,” he says. Within the last hour, Redford, Arteta, and Lehmann have dropped by, one after the other, to talk about the scene he is trying to cut. Their ideas are great. They also completely contradict one another. As the fellow plays their words over in his head, he gets an inkling of still another approach. His tries it, and that edit is his best yet.

At Sundance, contradiction is achieved by exposing fellows to as many perspectives as possible. Each session is attended by between 35 and 40 creative advisers, people like Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Glenn Close, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Payne, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jon Avnet. But rather than working with a single mentor whose approach and opinions they might uncritically absorb, the fellows get the divergent views of a slew of experts and must reconcile them into a vision of their own. They can also move among the institute’s various labs — including those for filmmakers, screenwriters, theater directors, and composers — to see how ideas play out in different disciplines.

“We need contradiction to get to truth,” says Redford. “Some of the most interesting things we see and feel have contradictory parts. It’s a part of our lives. Let’s use it rather than push it out and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Generosity: It’s 7:45 p.m. and the sun setting behind the mountains casts a soft blue halo across the canyon. Everyone from the labs — about 75 people — is savoring a hearty communal meal around big round tables in a big white tent. They are talking, laughing, and enjoying one another’s company.

Redford would like to be among them. But earlier he’d watched one of the fellows struggling to prepare for a difficult shoot the next day. He’d seen her wrestle with the actors, wrestle with the material; and he’d sensed her confidence was shaken. Reaching for the key to the nearest van, he calls to her across the parking lot: “Let’s go scout some different locations for the bus stop shoot tomorrow. There are three sites I want to show you. We can talk about the setups on the way.”

Company leaders — particularly the founder and keeper of the vision — can set the tone for how employees behave toward one another. The tone Redford has set is one of generosity. And it is a kind of generosity that sets the table for collaboration.

The long-term yield on generosity is visible. Fellows leave Sundance with a kind of lifetime resource commitment from the institute. Staff often help alumni move their projects into production by running interference with commercial markets, working contacts, and making phone calls to connect artists with casting agents, producers, and sources of financing. Alumni, in turn, come back to Sundance to serve as creative advisers and help tyro innovators with their work. “If you create an atmosphere of freedom, where people aren’t afraid someone will steal their ideas, they engage with each other, they help one another,” Redford says. “The freedom of not being threatened by your colleagues creates a whole energy.”

Story: Most evenings around 10 p.m., the institute’s staff, fellows, and advisers stroll down to the Owl Bar, a rosewood haven imported from Thermopolis, Wyo., where the real Hole in the Wall Gang hung out more than a century ago. There, they kick back, quaff ice-cold Wasatch ale, and swap stories from earlier sessions: about experiments that succeeded and failed; ingenious solutions to difficult problems; breakthroughs, breakouts, and the occasional breakdown. The purpose of these gatherings is to perpetuate institutional memory and knowledge. A task that most organizations either undervalue or ignore, Sundance achieves — characteristically — by returning to the oral tradition.

“If you create an atmosphere of freedom, where people aren’t afraid someone will steal their ideas,they engage with each other, they help one another,” says Redford.

Redford says that storytelling is as important for today’s businesses as it was for the Ute tribes that once inhabited this land. Organizations with no knowledge of their own stories borrow cheesy imitations from the media or steal them from competitors (that is why so much advertising appears interchangeable). And Redford believes storytelling can be fostered by the design and flow of an organization’s social and community habits, like the informal gatherings at the Owl Bar. “I think any culture without mythology and storytelling is doomed,” says Redford. “Stories are a way of communicating, a way of keeping certain things alive.”

Conversation: In preparation for my visit to Sundance I listened to 100 hours of taped interviews with Redford. When I arrived we walked together around the village, and I watched him collaborate with staff members and artists throughout the week. And here’s the remarkable thing: In all that time, I never heard him repeat himself. Even when I would read back to him his own words for clarification (a process that usually makes people self-aware) Redford was uninterested — he was already on to the next idea.

While most people, especially people in business situations, use conversation as a forum for presenting themselves, Redford uses conversation to become himself: He intends to be different when it is over. Just talking with him is a lesson in shaking off old ways of thinking. Like a chess player, he sees the whole picture, follows the moves, and finds the connections before you know where you’re going — then he turns the board. If you’re lost, he turns it to give you a leg up. If you’re safe, he turns it to keep you fresh.

“You had to think not only revenue, but the quality of that revenue,” Redford explains. It is a philosophy he has never abandoned.

Management theorists stress the importance of conducting companywide conversations but not of having leaders who are great conversationalists. At Sundance no one asks a question to which he or she already knows the answer. Words and ideas move in one direction only — forward.

It’s not as though business doesn’t recognize the importance of organic growth — corporate annual reports routinely proclaim a commitment to innovation. But it’s not showing up anywhere else. “The innovation right now in business — as far as I can tell — is coming out of paper and air,” says Redford. “The signs are everywhere. The collapsing of certain corporate structures, the mergers, the consolidation that was supposed to beef up profit are clearly, by and large, not working.”

Innovation at most companies is pursued with desperate, random acts or unevolved strategies; or it is so incremental and predictable that it isn’t really innovation at all. Sundance, by contrast, doesn’t just encourage innovation — it ensures that it happens by process and design. Most companies won’t find it a stretch to imitate at least some of Redford’s tactics. Expose people to a variety of conflicting perspectives. Hire for raw ideas. Throw innovators back on their own resources. Perpetuate institutional memory. Allow for experimentation, mistakes, and dead ends. Employ short-term mentors. Don’t respond slavishly to market research. Engage in conversations that lead to new conclusions rather than persuade people of foregone ones. Periodically switch environments. And if you are the company leader, give generously to innovators of your time and attention.

Perhaps most important, make clear that you yourself are on a quest for the genuinely new and that — like Redford — if you achieve that quest you will immediately start searching all over again. “There’s no endgame at Sundance; there’s not meant to be,” says Redford. “It’s still evolving and it’s meant to keep evolving.

“I don’t believe in endgames,” says Redford, “except the one that’s forced on you.”

Stephen H. Zades ( is the founder of Odyssey Network, a strategy and brand consulting company in Winston-Salem, N.C. This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Jane Stephens, English Department chair at High Point University. Their book, Mad Dogs, Dreamers and Sages: Growth Through Discovering Imaginative Intelligence, is available at

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