Sundance Beats American Negativity

Last week I was flown to the Sundance Film Festival to offer my thoughts on a documentary and discovered anew what I love about America.

Robert Redford starred during my childhood in the classic American flick, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and went on to found the wonderful Sundance Film Festival. Sundance, like its rebellious, thoughtful creator, is an innovation lab for what really matters in film, independent storytelling. Redford prizes the environment (natural and human) and understands that creativity -- not money or big "stars" -- is what matters most in film and life. Of course, he's also the founder of the Sundance Institute, a series of labs in Utah, New York and California "dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences." But interestingly the inspirational quote from Redford on the Sundance Institute website is less about film and more about what really should matter today in art, business and politics: "Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us."

Men like Robert Redford are what I admire about America: Men who create and inspire, and give back with their brains, ambition and heart.

The afternoon I arrived in Park City, Utah, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were slinging mud at one another in one of the ugliest presidential primary campaigns in history. Forget about broadening our minds. The candidates were blasting shotgun distortions at one another with the backing of millions of dollars from unaccountable super PACs. This was not storytelling but Orwellian newspeak, totally divorced from the real issues. Money and power was bludgeoning politics, much like we've seen money and power churn out horrible Hollywood movies.

I just wanted to ski.

In a year when global warming has left my California ski slopes nearly naked, I hoped to glide cross-country skis on the three feet of lovely white that had recently blanketed Park City. I walked over to White Pine Touring at the Hotel Park City, figuring I'd get the lay of the land for an early ski the next morning. The time was 5 p.m., and to my surprise they were open till 6. I told the lanky ski rental guy that I'd really like to ski but obviously hadn't dressed for the occasion.

"Hold on," he said, turning and walking out the door. Three minutes later he returned with a pair of nice ski pants, gloves and a ski hat. His compatriot handed me his own ski jacket.

I was stunned. I've skied nearly a thousand times and this had never, ever happened. These guys were literally giving me the shirt off their backs.

Troy was the kind fellow who lent me his ski gear, and I thanked him profusely and slipped into a changing room. When I emerged in my borrowed sleek pants and jacket Troy handed me a pair of freshly waxed skis. By 5:15 p.m., I was on my way. The snow made that crunchy snapping sound that means speed. Soon I was zipping around a lovely rolling trail in the fading Park City light, the glorious peaks towering above. I squeezed out every second till I could barely see, bringing the skis and Troy's clothes back by 6 p.m. The next morning, and the morning after, I skied at White Pine (in my own clothes). I saw that documentary, had some great meetings, and after I turned in my skis the last day, the cab was tardy arriving, and I worried I'd be late returning to my hotel and miss my flight home. Andrew, the bellman at the Hotel Park City, grabbed a van in the lot and gave me a lift back. I didn't ask: He volunteered.

It's a small story but Park City made an impression.

Generosity and that can-do spirit is what I experienced at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival. It's part of what makes America great. It's what we all want in life and business, and what we need a lot more of the rest of this year of presidential politics.

It sure beats American negativity.