John Cooper has been an integral part of the Sundance Film Festival programming team for more than two decades and was named director of the festival in 2009.
“We work very hard to make sure that we’re fair and pure in our selection process,” he says. “Every film is going to be judged on its own merit.”
How can actors take advantage of their time at Sundance?
Be present and open. The actors and filmmakers that are most attractive to me are those that see other films and talk about other films, so they’re participating fully in the experience. I’ve seen a lot of great relationships build between directors and cast members.
How does your programming staff choose the film lineup?
It’s a very passionate job. We argue a lot, and in the end I am there to try to judge that passion. A trick question I always ask is “Do you love this film?” If they don’t say yes very quickly, you kind of know that film might not have what it takes. I try to perfect my instincts around how an audience will respond.
Do you offer guidance for filmmakers attending their first festival?
We have events in New York and L.A. where we gather the filmmakers together to meet each other. It came from [Sundance founder Robert] Redford’s concept of what theater provided, the sense of community and working together. That was a driving force in creating the Sundance Institute in the first place. Filmmaking was very insular, and he liked the idea of places where people could come together as communities to celebrate not only what you’ve made but also the ideas behind your art form.
The 2013 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 17-27.