The eagerly anticipated Sundance Film Festival (SFF) started in Park City, Utah on Thursday, with legendary actor Robert Redford dismissing critics who suggested the US state should reconsider funding the event. Critics believe the liberal values espoused by the festival, founded by Redford, did not reflect the state's values.

"Sometimes the narrowest mind barks the loudest, and we've over time come to ignore it. We're offering a wide spectrum of choices. It's up to the audience to choose ... So I would just say to these people - we either ignore them or remind them that it's a free country and maybe they should look at the Constitution," the two-time Academy Award-winning director said in response.

The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid star also spoke about the $80m (approximately £50m) boost to the local economy every year because of the SFF.

The festival was started 35 years ago and has grown impressively since then, while staying true to its aim of helping young filmmakers. The 2013 edition features more than 50 debutants from 32 countries. And Redford, the founder and president of the Sundance Institute (which organises the festival) is delighted with the history.

"I never dreamed the festival would reach this degree. It's not quite the same as when we first started," Redford said, speaking of an event that has helped launch such iconic directors like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh.

Success has come at a price though, with Redford admitting he spends less time actually watching films than doing the, as he calls it, "meet and greet". He does admit, however, that he cannot be displeased about the indicator of the event's growth and success.

"What I would like most to do is just to see the films, but because of all the people coming now, it obligates me to do the meet and greet, when what I would love most is to be with the filmmakers and see their work. It's become like a monster's ball. But it gets more and more difficult. It's wonderful on one hand, and it's monstrous on the other hand," he explained.

But perhaps the best praise for the SFF is from the artist's traditional enemy - the critic.

"As the landscape of indie films keeps changing, Sundance remains their top purveyor," Michael Musto, the culture critic for the Village Voice, told, "It's the showcase for everyone who wants to debut their offbeat labor of love to the world and get noticed and distributed. People have declared the demise of Sundance for years, but the reality is it is still tops, still strong, still the marketplace for non franchise films. It's here that you'll find the new 'Beasts,' the new 'Precious,' and the latest James Franco weirdness."

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival opened with the screening of May in the Summer, directed by Cherien Davis. The film is the story of a US-based Jordanian woman dealing with an identity crisis when she returns home.

For more information on the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, check out the official Web site. You can also catch trailers, short films and other videos on the festival's YouTube channel.

In the meantime, check out these photographs from the first day of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival