March 11, 2009 / 7:07 AM / in 9 years

Sundance names John Cooper festival director

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday named veteran John Cooper as its new director, signaling the top U.S. gathering for independent movies remains on a even keel in choppy economic waters.

In his new position, Cooper will oversee strategic growth, online initiatives and festival partnerships along with leading the festival’s programing, among his duties.

He had previously been the festival’s director of film programing as well as director of creative development for the Sundance Institute, which he joined in 1989. The institute was founded by actor Robert Redford to support independent film.

In the past, Cooper helped promote cutting-edge art and video at the festival, boosted its Web presence and helped get short films distributed via iTunes and other Web services.

He replaces Geoffrey Gilmore, who last month left Sundance after 19 years as festival director.

Cooper told Reuters the recession and rapidly changing technology present major challenges ahead. Independent producers are finding it ever harder to fund movies and more people are going to the Web for their entertainment.

“It forces you to rethink things going into the future, not so much what Sundance is ... but what all film festivals may be like,” he said.

Cooper did not yet know exactly how he and Sundance might adapt, but said he was open to new ideas.

“I am going to listen and see where they (filmmakers) are, where we are going, and what festivals need to do,” he said.

Many festivals are finding fewer sponsors and advertisers due to the recession, and Sundance attendees also saw the impact of the sour economy this year.

Fewer corporations turned out in Park City, Utah, where the event is held, to hawk their wares at flashy parties that normally take place around the festival.

But the economy didn’t stop movie fans from showing up, organizers said. Roughly 195,000 seats were filled by ticket and pass holders, media and industry executives. Annually, the festival attracts about 50,000 people, on average.

Many festivalgoers thought that because fewer companies turned out and because the films were good, Sundance 2009 was among the best events of recent years. “If I can find another one of those,” Cooper said, “I’ll be happy.”

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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