Robert Redford
Credit: George Pimentel/Getty Images

So, Mitt Romney likes Transformers…or something?

The question during the opening press conference for the Sundance Film Festival seemed a little muddled, but it centered on whether America looks at movies too much as a commercial venture and not enough as an art. The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination came up, along with the shape-shifting alien robot movies, and the 1 percent, and…

Sundance founder Robert Redford took a shot at answering it, but his response may only lead to more questions, like: Will Romney now have to actually take a position on Michael Bay’s smash-’em-up summer blockbusters? (Hey, it’s better than the “open marriage” questions Newt Gingrich is having to absorb this week.)

“I’m not going to get into politics,” said Redford, an outspoken liberal, before diving right in. “You can see with the [Republican] debates going on, with this mushroom cloud of ego hovering over everybody, it’s kind of silly and stupid and I’m sorry about it. But we don’t get into that.”

As for robots in disguise: “Mitt Romney can go see what he wants to see,” Redford said. “If he wants the Transformers, great. It’s there for him. But that’s not where we are…. The people that wanna see the Transformers or want to be entertained by action films, particularly the kind that are driven by new technology that create special effects and so forth. That will always be there.”

Could this Transformers thing become a meme for Romney? Nick Anderson, The Houston Chronicle’s editorial cartoonist, has also made the connection. (He was working with a slightly smaller budget than Bay’s, as you can see.)

Redford transformed the opportunity himself into a discussion about government support for the arts. “When you think about the fact that other countries are far more supportive of their artists than we are, to me that’s unforgivable.” He blamed “narrow-minded” people in Congress for being afraid of things that promote change. He said he hoped “they will eventually just go away.”

“People who keep trying to put art into a trivial pursuit, or [say] it’s not important or it’s a waste of time, I’d like to think that is shrinking. It still exists, as you can see. Try to get money for the National Endowment for the Arts — it’s still hard. It’s still hard because there are those people out there who say, ‘Why give money to art? It means nothing.’ I think it means a lot and we’re here [at Sundance] to try to prove how much it does mean. We can only do what we can do, but we’re going to keep doing it.”

Another topic involved the changing landscape for independent films, which face ever-increasing hurdles at the box office while technology has made it easier than ever to distribute directly to consumers through video on demand and other download-driven services. Redford said the creative control is driving bigger name talent back into independent filmmaking, where their movies don’t have to be vetted by major corporations. “You have people that used to work more exclusively in the mainstream and are now coming into independent work,” he said. “For example, in this festival, you have Spike Lee, Stephen Frears, and actors who have come more into independent film…. The community is growing [because] it’s offering more possibilities and more freedom and control for the artist themselves.”

Sundance festival director John Cooper said filmmakers used to see indie cinema as a launching pad, but many now look at it as “a movement” and are choosing to work on a smaller scale to maintain that personal control. “I sometimes feel that Hollywood and independent film are separating a little bit, even more than in the past. The way [indie filmmakers] approach the films, the budget for the films, it’s a much more realistic approach,” he said. “A lot of them are sticking with independent film, and really dedicating themselves to the idea that’s the life they want to have, creating art as opposed to commercialism.”

On Twitter: @Breznican

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