(CNN) -- The Internet will help independent cinema survive despite a dip in the industry, says Robert Redford.
The outlook for small-budget films looks the way it always has -- "kind of grim," Redford told CNN ahead of the start of Sundance, the indie film festival he started a just over a quarter of a century ago to champion filmmakers.
"There's always the bleak view for independent film but it does manage to survive," said the veteran actor and filmmaker. Redford said technology is changing the media equation and will help independent films reach wider audiences.
Sundance, now in its 26th year, grew out of Redford's own experience making indie movies like "The Candidate" and "Ordinary People" and a desire, he said, to tell riskier stories.
Over the years, the festival which is held annually among the ski slopes of Park City, Utah, has helped launch films from "sex, lies, and videotape" to "Little Miss Sunshine" into the mainstream.
A veritable who's who of hip Hollywood directors have also launched their careers at Sundance: Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson.
Last year's breakout hit was "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It went on to score big at the box office, picked up an Golden Globe last week and has been tipped for Oscar success in March.
Speaking from his home in California's Napa Valley, Redford demurs from predicting what films will break out at this year's festival, which starts Thursday.
He does so out of fairness to the filmmakers and also because "I can get clobbered," he said, if something doesn't happen as forecast.
But he added: "There has always been and there always will be a breakout film. No one can quite predict it. I like the fact that Sundance is unpredictable."
Over the years the festival has become a celebrity destination known for its party scene. Sundance became a place "where you get a swag bag," Redford conceded.
But he insists that the festival has never strayed from its independent beginnings.
The ongoing economic downturn has hit the movie business on all fronts, with specialty divisions, which cater to the indie market, taking a particularly heavy beating.
Art house subsidiaries of Hollywood studios such as Warner Brothers' Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage have all closed in recent years. (Warner Brothers, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.)
People say there's no future for independent film because it doesn't really work in the marketplace, Redford said.
"But the fact is that there's new distribution on the horizon, and that's the Internet."
Films are already being self-distributed online, and while it may be difficult now, it will become easier for filmmakers in the future, he said.
Backing for independent filmmakers comes and goes, said Redford. "There is no constant support for independent film. It's evanescent."
"Sundance has never gone Hollywood. Hollywood came to us, but it's never been about Hollywood. It will always be a festival for independent filmmakers," Redford said.
The festival's mission of promoting original storytelling has not changed, but it has grown and adapted to transformations in the world landscape.
As globalization broke down borders and boundaries in the 1990s, Sundance was able to reach out to the international community and bring their stories to the festival, according to Redford.
In doing so, Sundance is "using film as cultural exchange," he said. "In all these films, the narratives are very powerful. They tell you a lot about the culture."
The festival is committed to screening a diversity of films. At Sundance, "all the films are very different. You're going to have a choice," Redford said.
Films from Russia, Iran, Greenland, Estonia and Cambodia are among those featured in the world cinema feature and documentary categories this year.
While he is a vocal and influential advocate of the arts, Redford, 73, has not been distracted from his craft.
He recently finished editing "The Conspirator," about the trial that follows Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
Redford, who turned to theater performance after starting out as an artist, said he can't imagine pursuing anything but a creative career.
"I can't help it. That's what I was meant to do. You follow your heart, your instincts, your intuition.
"Art is essential. I'm fine to be in that category whatever happens to be happening to it."
Agnes Teh contributed to this report.