At a news conference as the 11-day festival opened Thursday, Redford said Sundance's knack for showcasing films that went on to commercial success drew marketers hoping to share the limelight.
"Once the festival achieved a certain level of notoriety, then people began to come here with agendas that were not the same as ours," Redford said. "We can't do anything about that. We can't control that."
As Sundance has grown from its roots as Robert Redford's little place for nurturing new talent, celebrity hoopla and corporate marketing gimmicks often have overshadowed the films.
"It was pretty clear it was just a question of time before developers would move in and destroy it," Redford says. "What could I possibly do to preserve something that I thought was unique," Redford asked himself, adding, "and that led to Sundance."
Critics say Sundance has gone commercial, yet defenders insist such trappings are outside festival organizers' control.
"There's a bunch of, for lack of a better description, carpetbaggers attending the festival," said Kevin Smith, who established himself with "Clerks" at Sundance in 1994.
While film fans crowd festival theaters to catch some of the 120 feature-length movies playing at Sundance, this ski-resort town buzzes with parties, concerts and other events to promote products ranging from jewelry and jeans to washing machines and sports-utility vehicles.
One reporter asked Redford if Sundance had evolved into a festival with a "Butch Cassidy" or a "Sundance Kid" personality, referring to the actor's pairing with Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
"Neither one," said Redford, who played Sundance to Newman's Butch. "It's hard for me to answer questions about `Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.' And also, it's such a commercial phrasing. I don't know that we've seen ourselves in that perspective. You might say `Treasure of the Sierra Madre."'