Unlike the film that filled the charmed opening slot last year, "Argo," which left the crowd enraptured, split opinions about "Labor Day" were immediately apparent on the gondola rides down from the mountaintop premiere. Oscar blogger chatter was also mixed, with Sasha Stone of Awards Daily calling it "sweet and sad … Reitman's best" while Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells said, "It's not a catastrophe but it felt to me like a sensitive humanist misfire."
While Ben Affleck was the champion of the day when he rode into town last year to premiere "Argo," Reitman had to cede that incoming-hero position this year to Robert Redford, who brought his J.C. Chandor-directed starring vehicle "All is Lost" (previously hailed at Cannes) while receiving the first tribute of the festival.
"We premiered J.C. Chandor's film 'Margin Call' at our festival in Utah," said Redford. "Then when he came to me in New York and said that he had written this piece with me in mind and there was no dialogue, the first thing that struck me and got me excited was that there was no dialogue.
"Of all the people we've supported over the years at Sundance, either in our labs or at our festival, I thought it was ironic that no one ever asked me to be in a film. J.C. was the first one who'd come through our process that asked me to be in a film." Having said that, Redford may need a bodyguard at the Sundance awards ceremony next January.
If tradition counts for anything, Redford – who's being strongly touted for a best actor nomination – and Chandor can take heart in remembering how well things went for the last almost entirely speech-free film to play Telluride. That would be "The Artist."