Robert Redford kicks off Sundance film festival with a vow for freedom of expression

Robert Redford addresses the media at an opening day news conference for the Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah on Jan 22, 2015. The Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday with movie legend Robert Redford procla
Robert Redford addresses the media at an opening day news conference for the Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah on Jan 22, 2015. The Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday with movie legend Robert Redford proclaiming it a safe haven for freedom of expression, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PARK CITY, UTAH (AFP) - The Sundance Film Festival opened on Thursday with movie legend Robert Redford proclaiming it a safe haven for freedom of expression, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Redford, 78, said the deadly cartoonist shootings were a "wake-up event" for all who believe in the right to free speech, including film-makers gathered for the 11-day independent cinema showcase.

He vowed that the festival, which features edgy and sometimes provocative films as opposed to more mainstream Hollywood movies, would be a "safe place" for all films, regardless whom they offend.

"We believe in diversity, and freedom of expression is very much fundamental to us... You see a lot of films here that are going to upset other people, but that is okay, it's diversity."

Of the Paris attacks, he said: "That was a sad event, it was a shocking event. I also have a hunch it was a bit of a wake-up event," adding that "to try to create a safe place for film-makers... is what I think Sundance represents."

About 200 films will be screened at the festival, held annually at the Utah ski resort of Park City, and now in its 31st year, till Feb 1.

The schedule kicked off with What Happened, Miss Simone?, a biopic of jazz legend Nina Simone using previously unreleased footage to tell her story of musical genius and tortured melancholy.

Also up on Thursday were screenings of How To Change The World, about the birth of environmental giants Greenpeace, and a documentary about the tough life of a former star gymnast, The Bronze.

Future film-making stars are regularly born at Sundance, which Redford famously named after his character in the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Boyhood and Whiplash, for example, which debuted at the festival, both won Golden Globes this month and have multiple nominations for this year's Academy Awards.

Screening today will be A Walk In The Woods, based on the book by travel writer Bill Bryson and about a long-distance hike along America's Appalachian Trail. It stars Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson.

On Thursday, he said he had long had a rule that his own movies would not feature at Sundance - but he said festival director John Cooper defied him this year.

"He went out of bounds," he said.

He also spoke about the blurring of lines between television and film businesses. "I started in television," he said, answering an audience question about the two mediums.

"I'm a big fan of television. Mainstream film is shrinking; it's harder and harder for an artist to find his way in the film business," he added. "My impression is television is advancing faster than major film-making."

Movies set to screen include Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief, which is Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's expose of the group, based on a book by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Lawrence Wright; and Last Days In The Desert, in which Ewan McGregor stars as Jesus - and the Devil - in an imagined biblical chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert.