Sundance 2017 has come to an end, but with a bang, not a whimper. At the Saturday night awards, films that took on politics and feminism came out on top. And before that, a gathering of women to discuss the path forward turned into a heated discussion about intersectional feminism and race.
Thanks for joining the Los Angeles Times team of intrepid critics and reporters as they navigated art, politics and parties. We Hang out with filmmakers, marched with Chelsea Handler and watched next year’s big films (and festival flops) emerge. See you next year!
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On Friday, Tom Brokaw was in Washington, D.C., helping to lead NBC News’ coverage of President Trump’s inauguration. Less than 24 hours later — as thousands of women marched through the heart of Sundance mid-snowstorm to protest the new administration — the veteran newscaster touched down in Utah to promote a documentary.
Culture shock much?
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and that one was — to put it lightly — unique,” the 76-year-old said of the inauguration. “Most presidents who deliver State of the Union addresses try to do something that is lyrical, poetic and historically contextual. He did not. It was another campaign speech — which was his intention. He’s going to run the White House as if his campaign never stopped.”
Sipping a Diet Coke, Brokaw had just traveled from the airport to a local Ruth’s Chris Steak House, where he joined David Zaslav, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, and Rich Ross, president of the Discovery Channel, to discuss “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman.” That’s the new movie Discovery has at the festival, which explores three subjects who are finding sustainable ways to live off the land.
The film is part of the company’s renewed focus to “stand up for the environment and animal extinction,” said Zaslav. After working with Brokaw for more than two decades at NBC, the executive reached out to Brokaw to see if he’d be interested in narrating the new documentary.
“As the chronicler of the greatest generation — which, at its heart, was about people standing up for a greater good — I thought he was the perfect voice,” Zaslav said.
Brokaw, who has a ranch in Montana, has long been interested in environmental preservation. He was raised near large farming areas in South Dakota and grew up fishing on the Missouri River. And while he’s in Utah, he’s staying with Robert Redford, the festival founder who was largely responsible for the creation of this year’s New Climate program focused on environmental films.
Brokaw said he agrees with documentary’s overall message of conservation — advocating practices such as no-till farming — and believes that anyone who suggests we ought to stop eating animals or farming altogether is an extremist.
“That’s crazy. You’ve gotta have a sustainable economy,” he said. “You can’t just say ‘we’re not gonna do that.’ You have to have enlightened environmentalists who say we can have what we want, but we have to manage it more skillfully.”
“We’re not trying to scare people,” Ross added of the film, which will air on the network in August. “We look to educate or enlighten people and show them there are options. If you leave people hopeless, we are doing a tremendous disservice.”
Zaslav paused and leaned toward Brokaw. “Tom,” he said, taking a serious tone, “when you think about the obligation of our generation — whether it relates to what’s going on with animal extinction or what’s going on with climate — what is the obligation and what is the path?”
“What I think we can do, having lived through what we’ve seen,” Brokaw began, “is to say to [the millennial] generation: Look at the quality of life. You don’t have to be abusive and use everything. The quality of life can be more satisfying to you emotionally and intellectually and even physically if you do something. You feel better if you do the right thing.”
As for Trump — who has said he believes climate change is a hoax — Brokaw remains hopeful the president may change his campaign stance on global warming. He said he maintained faith in Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil and Trump’s choice for secretary of State, to say “it’s real.”
“I know him, and for a long time Exxon Mobil knew that global warming was real but did not surface it. He was the first CEO who said ‘it’s real, we have to do say that.’ That’s very strong,” Brokaw said.
“One of the things I learned early on is that at this stage in a new administration, it’s very hard to know for certain what’s gonna happen,” he continued. “So I developed something called the UFO theory: the Unforseen Will Occur. But [Trump’s] gonna find getting in the Oval Office that he’s no longer on the campaign trail and he can’t go out and say whatever he wants to.... He doesn’t have a lot of currency at this moment. He’s got the core group. I’m saying this objectively. This is what he’s up against.”