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Showtime, Redford Join Forces for Sundance Channel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Redford and Showtime Networks said Tuesday they are joining forces to create a pay-TV channel featuring independent films--despite the fact that another such cable channel was launched last Sept. 1 with the support of such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Spike Lee.

The new outlet, the Sundance Film Channel, will showcase independent features, foreign films and other movies. It will launch in the fall, with “previewing” on Showtime and the Movie Channel.

The channel will be a 50/50 joint venture between Showtime and Redford, Showtime executives said. The actor-director said that he intends to use a portion of the proceeds to help finance the work at the Sundance Film Institute, the nonprofit organization he founded in Utah in 1981.

“The goal here is to provide a TV environment for independent films,” Redford said in an interview. “It’s a logical extension of what we have been trying to do at the Sundance Institute.”

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The new channel will draw primarily on independent titles already licensed by Showtime, with the network currently in negotiations with independent film companies for new titles. But Redford will have an unusual measure of creative control. He and Gary Beer, president of the Sundance Group, will be involved in choosing the staff that will program the channel and, according to Showtime executives, could even veto a proposed film.

“I will not be involved day-to-day,” Redford said, “but I will be able to select my own team that will join with the large force at Showtime that will develop the channel.”

Through his longtime support for the Sundance Institute, Redford “has been a great champion of independent films,” said Winston Cox, president of the Showtime Networks, a unit of Viacom. “We want to create a channel that reflects his expertise and vision--and the creative atmosphere and excitement at the Sundance Film Institute.”

The Sundance Film Channel will have to compete for programming and cable space with the Independent Film Channel, a service launched by Rainbow Programming Holdings, which also operates the Bravo channel. The Independent Film Channel is available in 3 million homes and lists Scorsese, Altman, Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Martha Coolidge and Jim Jarmusch among the members of its advisory board.

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Kathleen Dore, executive vice president of the Independent Film Channel, said in an interview that executives there had been approached by Sundance about a similar arrangement a few months ago but balked at the issue of creative control.

“They were asking us to give up creative control to one person,” Dore said. “We felt this was not in keeping with the idea of diversity on an independent filmmaking channel. The filmmakers who are on our board are advisers to us, but no one person has a larger say than the others.”

“You can ask a lot of people to be on an advisory board without really involving them,” Cox said. “We will have the active participation of Robert Redford and Sundance.”

Cox said that he felt there was a need for two independent services and cited the recent success of films such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as evidence of the popularity of independent films. Sundance will include little-known films and experimental projects by unknown filmmakers, he said.

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While Cox said he hoped that young filmmakers whose work is developed and showcased at Sundance eventually would view the cable channel as an outlet, Sundance executive Beer said, “The Sundance Institute does not own any rights to filmmakers’ work, and there will be no rights connection” between the channel and the nonprofit institute.


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