Robert Redford Focuses on Optimism in Trying Economic Climate

Robert Redford Kicks Off Sundance | Tony Bennett Missing From Inauguration Festivities | Rock & Roll Hall: Decent Choices, More Complaints | Arianna's Big Night

Robert Redford Kicks Off Sundance

Robert Redford, looking jaunty in a black beret that hid his golden locks, sounded a note of optimism last night at the opening of the 25th annual Sundance Film Festival.

After taking a bow and accepting raucous applause, Redford launched into his annual welcome, startling the crowd a little with his opening:

“All right. Nerves. Angst. Worries. Pain. Panic. Fear. I’m not talking about the festival, although you might think I was. I’m talking about what’s going to be exiting the national stage on Tuesday.”

That bit got the audience charged up. He continued: “Change is in the air. Change is, of course, inevitable. It could bring good times. It could bring bad times. There’s no reason to think the times coming have to to be so filled with dread that we can’t look for some sport of optimism and hope. There’s always some space for opportunity. I’m thinking this could be a very inspiring time for artists.”

With that, Sundance 2009 began in earnest, as “Max and Mary,” kind of “Wallace and Gromit” for adults unspooled. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette are the voices of the title characters — pen pals who find each other by accident — respectively, a cranky old guy in New York and a little girl in Australia. The stop action animation is brilliant and layered, while the story itself — Max turns out to have Aspergers Syndrome, Mary is haunted by a crazy mother —is a bit of a downer.

Still “Max and Mary” is unique, and not a bad choice to open what is already a festival season full of questions. For one thing, Park City seems quiet despite proclamations that ticket sales for the movies are strong. The economy combined with the presidential inauguration have definitely contributed to eliminating a whole level of Sundance cruisers — people who just come to gawk at stars and have nothing to do with the film world.

Friday will be the test as everyone from cab drivers to shop keepers to restaurant owners cross their fingers that some crowds are indeed coming. Last night’s premiere at the Eccles Auditorium was sold out, but that may be not a clear indicator since the audience included sponsors, local officials, and the like. Interestingly, Brooks Addicott, the excellent new head of press at Sundance, says a lot of this year’s tickets were bought by locals. As Obama is planning his Neighborhood Ball in Washington for Tuesday — exclusively for residents of the District of Columbia — maybe this year’s Sundance is the Neighborhood Film Festival.

This was certainly also borne out by the parties in town last night. Attendance was light at both the Sundance edition of Tao, imported from New York and Las Vegas to the bottom of Main Street, and at the “Max and Mary” after party next door although some celebrity shined with the last minute appearance of producer Trudie Styler and husband Sting, who told one interviewer “I’m just the arm candy this year.”

Tony Bennett Missing In DC

Plenty of stars shaping up for the various Inaugural activities, including Stevie Wonder, the aforementioned Sting, Aretha Franklin, Sam Moore, James Taylor, the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, and more. Even Miley Cyrus is coming to Washington.

But where is Tony Bennett? A veteran Democratic fundraiser, America ’s most beloved singer has not turned up on any lists so far. This is very odd since Bennett has a long history with civil rights activism. In the mid 1960s, he and Moore (then as Sam & Dave), along with Aretha, Mavis Staples, and Mahalia Jackson toured the South, marched and raised money for Dr. Martin Luther King.

But Bennett has not been asked to be part of HBO’s Sunday broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial produced by Don Mischer and George Stevens, Jr. He’s also not on the list for any of the Balls, official or otherwise. At the California or West Coast Ball, he could have wowed the crowd with “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”

Someone involved in all this stuff had better get on the “Ball” — and fast!

Rock Hall: Decent Choices More Complaints

Yes, the troubled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has put together its final inductees for 2009. It’s a mixed bag, but considering what it could have been, we’re lucky. The best news is that Little Anthony and the Imperials are in even though they’ve been eligible since Day 1.

So, too, are a clutch of Elvis Presley people: Wanda Jackson, DJ Fontana, and Bill Black. Legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham is in, along with Fontana and Black as “sidemen.” Whatever. The “Sidemen” and “Early Influences” categories are not voted on. A committee votes on them, although really, it’s unclear and extremely weird how that stuff comes about.

That the Rock Hall isn’t taken seriously anymore is evident from its move to Fuse TV from VH-1. Aside from Fuse TV’s logo at 33rd and Seventh, I don’t know where it is or how to find it. So, good luck.

This year’s other inductees are Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Metallica, and Run DMC. Iggy Pop and the Stooges were left out again. And there’s a huge list now of artists who should have already gotten in, from Billy Preston and Motown’s Mary Wells to Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, the late Harry Nilsson, Chicago, the Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren and more recently Cyndi Lauper. Also, producers like Richard Perry and Phil Ramone have been left out in the cold. Jann Wenner’s little fiefdom has also totally ignored Quincy Jones.

This year’s induction ceremony on April 4th will be the first to take place in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. For all the people the Hall of Fame Foundation has ignored for induction, the Museum has steadfastly included anyway. So we’ll think of this year’s event as a celebration of the Museum, and hope in vain that the voting goes better next time.

Arianna's Big Night

The hot ticket for Monday night in Washington is the party being thrown by Arianna Huffington and The Huffington Post at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. Already I’m hearing reports of scalpers and scammers trying to score tickets.

Plenty of celebs are set to show up to hear perform. (Sting and Sheryl Crow are due to join him on a number.) Just yesterday, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead were added to the guest list. (They’re playing a Ball on Tuesday night.)

Other stars who will somehow get to the Newseum despite closed streets and blocked traffic include Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Halle Berry, Sean Diddy Combs, Jon Bon Jovi, and so on. That’s in addition to all the media elite who are in town. Atlantic Philanthropies and The Musk Foundation are sponsoring the night.