Democracy Now! broadcasts from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema. Today, we spend the hour with Robert Redford. He’s well known as an actor, but part and parcel of who he is is an activist. He took his success and leveraged it to promote his real passions: environmental justice, Native American rights and independent filmmaking. Since 1980, through the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford has helped independent voices develop their craft — in film, theater and music — and reach new audiences. Redford joins us for a wide-ranging interview about these many roles in his life, on and off screen. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema. We’re at Sundance this week to feature independent voices from here in the United States and around the world.
Today we spend the hour with Robert Redford, its founder. He’s well known as an actor, a director, a producer, but part and parcel of who he is is an activist. He took his phenomenal success and leveraged it to promote his real passions: environmental justice, Native American rights and independent filmmaking. His activism heightened during the Bush years. In one op-ed piece, he wrote, “The Bush administration’s energy policy to date — a military garrison in the Middle East and drilling for more oil in the Arctic and other fragile habitats — is costly, dangerous and self-defeating.”
Well, since 1980, through the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford has helped independent voices develop their craft — in film, in theater and music — to reach larger and newer audiences.
The Sundance festival takes as its namesake one of Redford’s best-known characters, from the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
BUTCH CASSIDY: I’ve got a great idea of where we should go next.
SUNDANCE KID: I don’t want to hear it.
BUTCH CASSIDY: You’ll change your mind when I tell you.
SUNDANCE KID: Shut up.
BUTCH CASSIDY: OK, OK.
SUNDANCE KID: It’s your great ideas that got us here.
BUTCH CASSIDY: Forget about it.
SUNDANCE KID: I don’t ever want to hear another one of your ideas, alright?
BUTCH CASSIDY: Alright.
SUNDANCE KID: OK.
BUTCH CASSIDY: Australia. I figured, secretly you wanted to know, so I told you.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Redford with his co-star and friend Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Well, today we turn to an hour interview I did with Robert Redford yesterday here in Park City, Utah.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Redford, welcome to Democracy Now!
ROBERT REDFORD: Thank you. Nice to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with this and to be here at Sundance. It has been quite remarkable for the brief time we’ve been here so far.
When you opened the Sundance Film Festival, you said you want to take this festival back to the roots, the roots of rebellion. What did you mean? And why don’t you tell us why you established this?
ROBERT REDFORD: Well, I think probably somebody modified that to add the word “rebellion.” I wouldn’t be that restrictive. But it was true about getting back to our roots. And what I think I did say was that I felt the institute, which started in 1980, it was started on, I would say, a whim. But it certainly was a risky proposition, because it was new, and it was innovative, and it was going to be dependent on its ability to take risks and to forge new territory with new voices. And that’s what we would be doing, supporting the new voices to create a new territory, if that was possible. No one knew whether it would be or not, but that was the chance to be taken.
So, when I started it, I thought, well, if this works — and I didn’t know it would — if it does work, it probably won’t last more than, I don’t know, a few years. Otherwise, it’ll flatline. It’ll flatline, and it’ll start getting too worried about itself. It’ll start being too worried about the money it’s raising, and the next thing you’ll have it get conservative, and then it’ll be trying to hold its own. And it probably won’t go past a certain amount of time. But on the other hand, if it can maintain its so-called mission and point of view, which is basically creating a platform to find and help support new voices in film and give them a chance for their work to be seen and also develop their work at our labs, if it continues to make a difference or to create any kind of an impact or, moreover, continue to create opportunities for the filmmakers, then we’ll keep going.
So what happened over the twenty — the festival started — that was 1980. The festival started in 1986, when I saw that the labs were beginning to succeed and that they were developing new work by new filmmakers. But there was no place to go, because the mainstream had them frozen out. And there was a category at that time that was pretty much relegated to the Humanities and Endowment of the Arts, NEH and NEA. And the funding we got from NEA, I thought, was good as an imprimatur, for credibility, because I didn’t know that I would be trusted. They said, “Well, he’s a movie star, you know, so why doesn’t he pay for everything?” But it was restricted. That was a category that was kind of dead, and it just circulated small films on grants that went into public education. And that was fine, but I thought it was a category that could be grown or enhanced. So we thought about fueling that category from our labs and creating an independent zone that would help the industry. It wouldn’t — it was never meant to go against it or be an insurgency; it was just simply to augment what was already beginning to shrink. So, anyway, when the festival came around, it was, let’s just have a place where the work can be seen.
OK, so now, twenty — twenty-some-odd years later, watching it each year, and it began to feel to me like it was beginning to flatline and be too worried about its own position and the money that was coming in, and so forth. And I thought, no, we should either close it or start new. So what came to my mind was a T.S. Eliot poem that I’ve always been fond of that begins with “Let us not cease from exploration.” And then it goes in a circular line to the end, where it ends with “so that we may return to the place we started and see it as if for the first time.” And that sort of was the idea: Let’s go back to our roots. And now, twenty-five years later, for a lot of people, it might seem fresh and new. But mainly, for us, it’s to remind us of who we were, when, and what we did, taking new chances and carving new areas. And so, that’s what this festival is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: So here you are, a movie star who’s involved with — who, yourself, have directed and performed in blockbuster movies. Why are you thinking about independent media? You’ve succeeded so well in the mainstream.
ROBERT REDFORD: Well, actually, it’s because a lot of the films I’ve made — which maybe some people know about, some people don’t — the very satisfying ones — I’m not at all dissatisfied with my career or the choices made for the larger films. There were some very worthwhile ones. But the films that turned out to really interest me and excite me the most were the ones that I made that were lower budget early on.
When I got to a place, about 1970, where I had been an actor for hire, and I wanted to tell my own stories about the country that I was living in, and the story that I saw, it was a little bit underneath the story you were given, you know? I was seeing another story to be told about my own country that I had lived through, through experience. And so, I asked if I could make my own film.
And I had an idea for a trilogy, around the subject of winning, because I could see that my country was a country obsessed with winning. And as a little kid growing up in a kind of a lower-class, lower working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, sports was my — sports and art was my only out from a bad situation. And I was given this slogan. There was a lot of slogans floating around, and you’re given slogans like “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Well, I found out that was a lie; in this country, everything mattered, whether you won or not. And so, I wanted to make a trilogy and pick three areas of our society that were dominant — sports, politics and business —- and tell a story about the pyric victory of winning, winning at all cost.
So, anyway, that was the idea, and people weren’t too excited about it. I wanted to make a film about sport and use skiing as a subject, and then politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Downhill Racer was the sport?
ROBERT REDFORD: Downhill Race was the sports one. And I chose -—
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re a skier yourself.
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah. I chose skiing simply because it was a combination of poetry and danger that I thought would be —- and there hadn’t been any films about skiing. No one had seen that visual. Politics -—
AMY GOODMAN: But wait, I just want to stick with that for one minute. That one, you almost had to take independent, didn’t you? You didn’t have the full support of Paramount, of the big movie house?
ROBERT REDFORD: Yes, that probably led to the idea of Sundance, because I didn’t —- I didn’t have the full support of Sundance at the end. I had it -—
AMY GOODMAN: Of Paramount.
ROBERT REDFORD: I thought I did — yeah. I thought I did in the beginning. I was made a lot of promises. But it was a very low budget film, a million-and-a-half dollars. I had given up my salary, and I was very passionate about it. I was willing to do it for nothing. And it practically was done for nothing. It was real guerrilla filmmaking. But, to answer your question, it was so exciting. It was so really, really exciting. And you had all these people pitching in for the same reasons, giving it their all. And it just had a — created energy.
What happened was, the studio dumped it, because they didn’t believe in it. And I had to experience that the hard way. And I realized that there was never any real support for it. They were sort of letting me do it, due to the larger pictures. But the experience of making it so excited me that I kept wanting to do it. And that led me to be making other films throughout the ’70s, because I would do a larger film, which I was happy to do, and “if I do this, would you let me make this little riskier film?” And they say, “Yeah, as long as it’s under $2 million.” So I did The Candidate and Jeremiah Johnson and Ordinary People and a couple of others. And that experience was very thrilling to me. I loved it. And I thought, well, I’m lucky because, you know, I’m making these larger films, and because of that and whatever success they’re having, I’m allowed to make the smaller ones. Well, other people aren’t that lucky. So what about creating something that would allow more people to have that same benefit? But we would have to create the structure.
So that’s what led to the lab program. And then we would focus on that category of independent film, which was sort of dead, and see if we could fuel that. And that led to the festival. And the festival then grew after several years, until it is what it is. That’s enough said on all that. But international created the possibility to bring international stories here. And basically, there was a political subset to it, because these were stories very often about diasporas and people suffering and wanting to get their story out about why there were suffering and what it looked like, so people could understand. And we gave them a platform.
AMY GOODMAN: Movie actor Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival. We’re here in Park City, Utah. Back with our interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as we continue with our interview with its founder, actor Robert Redford.
AMY GOODMAN: Your opening film at this year’s film festival was Howl.
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Quite amazing, about that poem by Allen Ginsberg, published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. You personally ran into them in your travels.
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, it was by accident.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
ROBERT REDFORD: Oh, it’s a long story. I’ll make it short. I was sixteen years old, and it was a rougher time in my life, a lot of trouble here and there and everything. And some buddies of mine — I was sixteen, and I had just discovered jazz. It was 1953. I had just discovered jazz, and to me — that was in the Big Band era. And I heard that language, and it was like some new music, jazz. It was a new language, actually. It was music that was a new language. And it so affected me. I got all taken away from it. And I was told that it was also in San Francisco. This was in Los Angeles, where I grew up. And I got so excited, I told my buddies, I said, “Hey, let’s head on up to San Francisco and find a place for jazz.”
So we went there looking for jazz and, by accident, stumbled into City Lights. And my friends thought it was a bummer. And they said, “What’s this about? You know, all these books and everything?” And I said, “I don’t know, but just give it a minute.” And then no musicians showed up. And then Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder, they all came on, and Ginsberg, and sat in these wooden chairs, and all very preppy. Now my friends are really — they consider, “This is a real waste, you know?” And then they started their — reading their work. And the same thing happened to me. It was another language. And it so hit me, it was concurrent with the jazz. It had the same effect on me.
But this was before “Howl.” And Ginsberg, of all of them, was the most aggressive. He seemed to want — be the one that needed the most attention and wanted the most — he wanted to kind of grab you and pull you into his work, which, in those days, it kind of put me back a little bit because we were too cool for that. And then, after that, when I really started to analyze the work, and particularly with “Howl,” I thought this is pretty major. It may be done when the guy is high. It’s stream of consciousness. He’s probably affected by Joyce and Whitman. It doesn’t matter. It’s a language that relates to my country now. And I thought it was pretty powerful.
So, the other night, I was looking at it with kind of two hats. I thought, wow, this is a proud film for Sundance, because it came through two labs, our documentary lab and our film lab. But for me, it was pretty nostalgic. I liked the film a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who owns City Lights, right?
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, very much so.
AMY GOODMAN: Publishing —-
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —- the poem and having to go on trial for obscenity.
ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Allen Ginsberg reading the poem “Howl.”
ALLEN GINSBERG: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what it meant to be a big-time star, but also, it seems, always feel like an outsider a little bit.
ROBERT REDFORD: The idea of being an outsider, yeah, probably — the neighborhood I grew up in was pretty rough as a kid, and it was lower working class. It was mostly Hispanic and Japanese. They were all working-class people who worked at homes above Sunset Boulevard. And in the experience of that life, there was a part of me — all my friends — I had a lot of really great friends, but they played a certain kind of game, and it was basically games in the streets, street games. And there wasn’t reading. There wasn’t literature. That was not part of the deal, and yet I was fascinated by that. And I think it had to do with my folks taking me to a library when I was a kid. We would go to a movie theater Saturday night and the library Wednesday night. And I got obsessed with books at a very young age. And the first books were about mythology, something bigger than my life, you know, and I got so taken with it. I became a real reader, but I used to read like in private, because there wasn’t anyone to talk to. And the parents would say, “You’ve got to go to bed now.” It’s whatever time it was. “Turn out the lights.” And I’d get a flashlight, and I’d read.
Because I was not a good student, because I — our teachers were substitutes because the real ones were off at the end of the Second World War, so education was not inspiring to me. So I was always out the window with my mind and wanted to be out the window with my body. I wanted to see what was going on out there. And so, I was not a good student.
And I went eventually to Europe to study art. And when I was there, I was confronted by young radical students in Paris. This is in the late ’50s. And they would challenge me politically, and I knew nothing. I grew up at a time when Nixon was the senator in California, Earl Warren was the governor. I thought they were boring. They were guys in suits that sounded boring and acted boring, and so I didn’t have any interest in them. When I was challenged, I was humiliated. They said, “How can you not know how you feel about your country? How can you not know about the politics, when you’re in the strongest country in the world?” Well, I was chagrined.
And so, I made it my point to study, which I did, but from Europe. So I began to look at my country from another point of view than the one given me inside the country. I think the other part of that outsider thing was, again, beginning to realize that there was mythology about my own country given to me and that there was a wonderful country there, which I still believe there is, but it was a different one than the sloganeering that was going on about the country. And I began to see the other side of it and think. And I felt that there was a story to be told, there are really a series of good stories about what’s the story beneath the story you were given about your own country, which led to films like The Candidate or All the President’s Men or — you know, you’re given this, but what’s the reality? It’s such a great country. Let’s find out what it really is all about and how it’s affected you as a human being growing up in it.
AMY GOODMAN: All the President’s Men. Sure, you starred in it. You were Bob Woodward. But you had much more of a role even than being the star of this — didn’t you? — in shaping it and then writing the book, seeing it as the story, the significant story that it was. Can you talk about that?
ROBERT REDFORD: I had just finished the film The Candidate. I was promoting The Candidate. I was on a train.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain The Candidate, for people who haven’t seen it.
ROBERT REDFORD: It was a film. It was a kind of a black humor look at how people get — how someone gets elected in our country at that time, 1970. And the point the film wanted to make was that we’re electing people by cosmetics rather than substance. And I was playing the sacrificial character, the character who looked — they were selling my appearance, rather than who I was, and they were trying to coach me on the substance end, but it was really about how I looked. And that was the film.
MODERATOR: Mr. McKay, you now have one minute to sum up. Mr. McKay?
BILL McKAY: In the beginning — I think it’s important to note what subjects we haven’t discussed. We’ve completely ignored the fact that this is a society divided by fear, hatred and violence. And until we talk about just what this society really is, then I don’t know how we’re going to change it. For example, we haven’t discussed the rock that destroys our cities. We have all the resources we need to check it, and we don’t use them. And we haven’t discussed why not. We haven’t discussed race in this country. We haven’t discussed poverty. In short, we haven’t discussed any of the sicknesses that may yet send this country up in flames. And we better do it. We’d better get it out in the open and confront it, before it’s too late.
ROBERT REDFORD: And what happened, in about two weeks, I was going to make The Way We Were. And that was going to be in about two months in northern New York. And I was waiting, so I read the paper. And suddenly these little blurbs started to appear, you know, and they would increase a little bit. Always had to do a byline. I didn’t pay attention to what the names were, just two names always. And then it got up to slush fund and dadalada, and I thought — I was like a cheerleader on the side.
Anyway, this thing went on and on and finally erupted into a big deal. And then other newspapers, like the New York Times and other papers, got involved when it reached a certain level. And then it erupted into a big deal. Then it was — and it was these two guys. And I read — and then it went the other way, because of some false thing with the grand jury testimony. It was a semantic glitch of some kind, and they were wrong. Nixon then did get reelected, and he went after the Washington Post, hook, line and sinker, and after the two guys.
And I read a little — a little story in some side piece about who the two guys were that caused all this trouble. And when I saw that one guy was a Jew and the other guy was a WASP, one guy was an extreme liberal and the other guy was a really right-wing — not a right-wing, but Republican, and they didn’t like each other, and one was a good writer and the other guy wasn’t very much, and yet they had to work together. I thought, wow, what a — that must be an interesting story. I mean, I wasn’t so much focused on the bigger picture, as much as what was it like for the dynamic to work together. So I wanted to get a hold of them to see if there was a little black-and-white movie that I might produce with two unknown actors and just deal with that little part of the summer when they were doing that work. So they — I tried to call them, and they didn’t return my calls.
It went on for a couple of months, and finally I got Woodward later on. He was cold. And he said, “Hi.” And I said, “It’s Bob Redford.” And he said, “Yeah.” He wasn’t too excited by that. And I said, “I wanted to know if I could talk to you and your partner. I have an idea.” And he said, “Well, we’re busy right now, and it’s not a good time.” So he kind of blew me off. So I let it drop. But it was still on my mind. I thought it could be a really interesting story.
But I went on to other things and was making another movie in Chicago in February, when James McCord writes a letter to Judge Sirica, saying, “It’s true. We were hired by the committee to…” And suddenly the whole thing turned back around. The guys were right. So I call Woodward, and I say, “Look, can I just — I know — I don’t know why you don’t want to talk to me. Can I just talk to you? It’s an idea. That’s all.” And he said, “OK. Meet me. Can you get to DC?” And I said, “Yes.” And it was all very cloak and dagger, and we met.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re Deep Throat. Oh, no.
ROBERT REDFORD: Well, no, I was being treated like — he said, “Don’t meet me. Go here, and don’t tell anybody here, and go in the back and sit in the third seat.” So I met him, and then he apologized. He said, “I didn’t think it was you,” he said, “when you called. We were so nervous and paranoid, we thought we were being set up. And so, I didn’t believe it was you.” And I said, “Well, here I am. This is what I’m interested in.” He said, “My partner and I, this is not a good place for us to talk. It’s a tough time. Let’s — I’ll come up to New York to your apartment.”
They came up in late February, and we had a long eight-hour meeting. I told them what I wanted to do. And they said, “Look, we’re going to be writing a book about all this.” By this time, things were escalating in ways that I hadn’t imagined. And I said, “Well, look, you know, I don’t really need you to write a book. I’m only interested in — if you guys could just give me some — let me — give me the rights to do this. I’m interested in only this period of time. I don’t know where this thing is going.” And they said, “Well, we don’t, either.”
The Washington Post was very nervous about us. They were very cooperative, but also very, very nervous that this was Hollywood, and it could hurt them. So they had two faces with that, and I understood that. But Bob and Carl finally let me see their notes for their interviews, and we were able to take those notes and construct scenes, literally from their notes.
Anyway, the film got made, and the rest speaks for itself. But in the meantime, this little thing was burgeoning into this gigantic historical event that I never dreamed was going to happen. So by the time the film came out, Nixon had resigned, and it was a big deal.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to All the President’s Men.
BOB WOODWARD: This story is dry. All we’ve got are pieces. We can’t seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like. John Mitchell resigns as the head of CREEP and says that he wants to spend more time with his family. That sounds like bull [expletive]. We don’t exactly believe that.
DEEP THROAT: No, but it’s touching. Forget the myths that the media has created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.
BOB WOODWARD: Hunt’s come in from the cold. Supposedly he’s got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.
DEEP THROAT: Follow the money.
BOB WOODWARD: What do you mean? Where?
DEEP THROAT: Oh, I can’t tell you that.
BOB WOODWARD: But could tell me that.
DEEP THROAT: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just follow the money.
AMY GOODMAN: Issues that you take on that other people don’t, for example, speaking up for Native Americans. You narrated the Incident at Oglala about Leonard Peltier. Why did you choose to do that?
ROBERT REDFORD: Again, it was the story beneath the story that was out there. I felt that what his case — because I was already very much involved and interested in Native American rights and issues, I had made some documentaries about it through the ‘70s. And I got a call from Peter Matthiessen, the writer, who was wanting to write a book about Leonard. This was back in 1980, and Leonard had just been sent to Marion prison in Marion, Illinois, high-security prison. He contacted me, and we talked about it.
And I knew a little bit about his story on Pine Ridge and that he was being abused by the law, he wasn’t getting a fair trial, and that they had lured him across from Canada. He had been a fugitive, and they had lured him across from Canada on the pretense that he would be treated fairly, and he wasn’t. Once he crossed the border, they nailed him and put him in jail, because the other two had gotten off by poor lawyering.
And so, Peter was going to be writing this book, and he said, “Look, maybe you can help.” He said, “The guy is in Marion prison, and there’s a rumor floating around that they’re going to take him out and kill him.” And he said, “Maybe if you went in there,” because I just finished a film about a warden, called Brubaker, and that was just out in the cinemas and getting a lot of attention, so he said, “Maybe if you went there.” So I did.
And when I went there, I met a lot of political activists that were trying to help Leonard. And we met in a hotel room, and they were very secretive and all that, and they said, “We know we’re being followed or bugged.” And I said, “Well, what can we do?” And they said, “Well, if you could just go in there, and it be known that you’re going in, that maybe you could see him. And maybe just your appearance would keep something from happening.” Now, I didn’t know whether that was going to be true or not, but I was certainly willing to do that. So I went in and met the warden, and it was a big deal, you know, me coming into the prison and so forth.
So they took me down into — through these layers of cellblocks into the deepest security. And the honor at that time was I was the first person allowed to see Leonard live, without a glass in front of us. And I spent forty-five minutes with him. That was all. And I was convinced after that forty-five minutes that he was getting maltreated and that it was not fit — that he was — what I was seeing was a misapplication of justice and that there was a double standard in the law and that he was being victimized. It was going to be an eye for an eye, as far as the FBI was concerned, because they had blown the case with the other two, so somebody’s going to pay. And they didn’t have the evidence, but they were going to make him pay anyway.
So that led to a long, long time of trying to help him. And then, finally — and I had lobbied in DC, and, you know, I don’t know if that does any good, and particularly these days, but I decided a film might be the better way to go, and if a documentary could be made about the injustice of his case, maybe that would help.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play a clip.
LEONARD PELTIER: You are, and have always been, prejudiced against me and any Native Americans who have stood before you. You have openly favored the government all through this trial, and you are happy to do whatever the FBI would want you to do in this case. You’re about to perform an act which will close one more chapter in the history of the failure of the United States courts and the failure of the people of the United States to do justice in the case of a Native American. After centuries of murder, could I have been wise in thinking that you would break that tradition and commit an act of justice?
ROBERT REDFORD: In 1977, Leonard Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in federal prison.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be back with actor Robert Redford here at the Sundance Film Festival in a minute.
We’re broadcasting live from Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our interview with actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford.
So, you’re taking on, I mean, the major powers in this country. The FBI takes the Leonard Peltier case very seriously. They believe that he killed two FBI agents at Pine Ridge. He adamantly denies this and feels he didn’t get a fair trial and has been considered a political prisoner by many. Are you afraid of being taken down when you do something like that?
Well, not anymore. Those days are behind me. You know, I guess you could look back — I took on the FBI in that one, the CIA in Three Days of the Condor, the presidency in All the President’s Men. So I suspect — well, maybe I shouldn’t say anything, but I don’t worry about that anymore.
But the idea was, at the time, I didn’t worry about it. I thought it was such an important story to tell. And I had the naive belief at that time that if I were to tell a story well, through film, and it reached the public, that it might make a difference in terms of policy. And I learned, over time, that, no, no, that you don’t affect — I don’t know that you affect public policy. You might affect fashion. If I wear a mustache in Butch Cassidy and the film was a big success, then suddenly mustaches are in fashion. But I don’t think All the President’s Men or The Candidate or Three Days of the Condor or Leonard Peltier or Quiz Show or any — some other films that I’ve made that were making —- trying to make a point about our society and how we manipulate things in our society to our disfavor -—
Maybe you’re making truth fashionable.
Well, depending where — how you know how to find it in this day and age. You know, there’s such distortion about all that. But anyway, I would — it wouldn’t stop me from trying. It wouldn’t stop me from making it. I mean, it’s just that I had to give up the idea that it might make a difference.
But in terms of the threat, I was so obsessed at that time with telling the story and telling it well by making it exciting, by making Three Days of the Condor a thriller, by The Candidate a comedy, by All the President’s Men something that the public could feel a part of — about — I felt honored to be coming into the history of journalism at that particular time, when it was at its high point of glory, saving the First Amendment, never dreaming that it was going to slide downhill, the back side, so fast that within twenty years we’d be on the other side of it wondering what happened. I never dreamed of that.
The partnership you had with Sydney Pollack, what — he convinced you to do The Way We Were, didn’t he?
He did, yeah. We had a wonderful relationship for many, many years. And I’d say, probably starting in 1960, going clear to 1990 we made several films together. And we — it was a collaborative experience, because Sydney was the director, I was the actor, but behind the scenes we worked together on the script, and it was very collaborative and very giving both ways. And we raised families together. We were personal friends. And so, it was a wonderful time.
And we would very often take on projects that were completely uphill projects. But because of that, it was exciting. I’d say, “Well, let’s go for it. Let’s do it anyway.” So, that was one of them. And Sydney was a very fine filmmaker. He was a wonderful manager of the elements of film. And it was good for me as an actor because it freed me up as an actor, and I trusted Sydney to manage me as an actor. So there was comfort and confidence and loyalty on both sides. It was a terrific relationship.
You didn’t want to do The Way We Were?
No, I didn’t want to do The Way We Were, because I thought I was playing a male model, you know, to Barbra Streisand. I said, “Unless you can give the character a flaw to make it interesting to play, I just feel like I’m there to service Barbra,” you know, not that that would be a bad thing, but that’s not the way I wanted to spend three months. And so, Sydney said, “Trust me.” And he did. We worked on it together with another writer to get underneath the character’s looks and explore an insecurity that he had that he was afraid he’d be judged by his looks, and he wasn’t afraid that his talent could live up to his looks. Then that made it an interesting character to play.
But that was Sydney. Sydney was obsessed with that project. Jeremiah Johnson was mine, and I had to convince him to do that. So, very often our — sometimes we’d be together on something, like The Electric Horseman; other times — and Three Days of the Condor — other times, he’d push me, or I’d push him.
Speaking of partnerships, Paul Newman just died. Certainly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid launched you into major stardom. What was your relationship with Paul Newman like? And talk to us a little about who he was.
Well, he was a really good friend. And in a way, when he passed away, because he was such a good friend, I felt — I didn’t want to — I thought it would undignify him to talk too much about it.
He was a guy who — he and I just had a connection that probably defied explanation. Just was. And it came out of the films we did together. And the relationship was very similar to the films’ relationships themselves. We gave each other a hard time, we played tricks on each other, but there was great affection there that nobody would particularly show.
And it wasn’t that we saw each other every week. Sometimes a long time would go between us. We lived near each other in Connecticut for a while.
I liked him because he and I shared fundamental values. I liked him because his celebrity, whatever my celebrity was, we both had the same feeling about celebrity, that it was dangerous to get to — you didn’t want to dance, you didn’t want to embrace it too much, because it could be — it could be a Damocles sword, and so you keep a distance from it and always remember who you were and where you came from. And his humility and his generosity were terrific. I liked him because he made the most out of his life that he could. He created a life for himself that mattered. That was something that impressed me. He was fun to kid around with. He was fun. I could kid around about his flaws. He had the attention span of a bolt of lightning. You know, I’d kid him about it. I’d call him a Republican, you know? And we just had a lot of fun together.
Why would you call him a Republican?
Because he was such a Democrat. And so, we just gave each other a hard time, but it was always with great affection. And towards the end of his life, I would see him, and we had a project planned together from a Bill Bryson book called A Walk in the Woods. And we were working for five years, trying to get to that point, and unfortunately, circumstances stopped them. I was so fond of Paul, I felt that it would dishonor him to talk too much about him, other than to say he was a great guy and I was very fond of him.
Robert Redford, talk about your environmental politics. I mean, you have long been a champion of the environment. You’ve testified before Congress. You’re on the board of trustees of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But start by describing Utah, for people to understand what this place is who aren’t from here.
Well, Utah is a composite made up of two parts: its physical part and its political part, which has very close alignment with its religious part. Its politics are very closely aligned with its theocratic stance, which I don’t share. I don’t demean it, or I’m not against it; I just don’t share it. Its physical place is one of the best places on earth because of the variety in the landscape. And I came here principally because of that.
And the environment simply started as a kid, that I was very much in the environment, because there wasn’t anything else to do. You know, you went to the ocean because that was the nearest thing. So you learned to surf. That was the thing you did. Or going to the Sierras. And I just fell in love with nature and the environment.
But I could also see — it’s like this slow — it’s almost like a shadow creeping across, just before the sun goes down, and turning things into darkness. I could see a big part of the West being overtaken by development. And Los Angeles was the first, because it seemed to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for so many people that wanted to get there. But I grew up there, so there was no magic for me. Hollywood was there, so it was not a place I looked at from a distance. I loved movies, but Hollywood, in terms of myth, did not interest me, because I was there. And so — but I valued the beauty of it, and then I saw it being wasted with overdevelopment and so forth. So I started to go somewhere else.
That eventually took me to Utah, because it was the least developed in 1960. Now it’s overdeveloped, like everywhere else. But I just decided to buy a little land there and try to preserve what I could, because then I could at least control that part of it, some little piece of nature. And that’s how it all started, with two acres of land and building a cabin on it. And I kept buying more and more from the sheepherder and to protect myself.
To protect yourself from?
Development. So, finally, I got 5,000 acres, and it goes against the Forest Service, so there’s a large chunk of land that I know can be protected, and the wildlife, the ecosystem can be preserved. But all you have to do is drive around here and look around to see the sensibility that controls, which is, manifest destiny is alive and well.
Your thoughts about that student, Tim DeChristopher, from the University of Utah, who went in and monkey-wrenched —
Oh, I thought that was so great.
— the auction and tried to buy up land?
Well, what was so great about that was the humor involved with it, I mean, because I do believe in trying to have a sense of humor. Even though the fight’s uphill most of the time, you know, try to have a sense of humor about it. And the fact that that guy pulls such a stunt, on a stunt that was trying to be pulled by Bush against the public and the public domain, I thought, boy, one stunt defeating a dumb stunt? That’s pretty great.
But now he’s going to trial. He faces years in prison.
I certainly hope not. I would certainly — well, I don’t know. I hope not.
Your assessment of President —
I think the person who should go to prison is the guy that was going to try to sell the lease. That’s what I think.
Your assessment of President Obama?
A very smart man. I think he has done some really good things, particularly in areas that I’m concerned about. I think education is extremely important. I think the environment is extremely important. I think the arts are extremely important. I think his heart and his mind are really right on in all those areas.
He’s fighting his own party. And I thought that he made the mistake of thinking that bipartisanship could win the way, when it was — should have been clear from the get-go that was not ever going to be in the cards, that fear was the card likely to be played, and anger, and that the Republican Party, once they lost their moderates, you knew what you were going to get: a barking dog. And it was going to be barking loud and angry and focused on fear, at just the time the recession started, so therefore, it was probably going to work.
And that he needed to — I guess I — you know what I thought? I thought he’s obviously in a very rough time, and now he’s got his own party subdivided. And they don’t know how to tell the story that should really be told, and they didn’t tell it soon enough. And the story that’s being told on the other side, very well and very loud, is the wrong story, in my mind, and that’s my personal opinion.
But what I was thinking about, what I was thinking, look what happened eight or nine years ago now, that — when the prior administration came into power. I never thought that was a legitimate election. Again, my personal opinion. When I saw the role the Supreme Court played in it, I got really concerned. If the Court goes right, goes too far right, our own Constitution is going to be in trouble. Well, when they got to power, they suddenly had both houses, the bully pulpit and the Supreme Court. They had everything. And boy, did they use it. And they just went for it. And they played it tough. They say, you’re either with us or against us. We got the political capital; we’re going to use it. So that tough line, I believe they thought, carried weight with the American public, and I think it does, to be tough, to be strong. And I think Bush was probably coached to be tough, to be the cowboy.
And so, had the Obama administration, which I don’t know much about the characters in it, but had that administration taken the same tack, say, “We have the political capital, the public has voted us in here because they didn’t want what Bush was putting into place because of the destruction” — had they played the same game the same way, who knows what difference? But there was too much softness. There was too much willingness to be bipartisan, to negotiate with a party that wasn’t going to do that. And I think we lost a lot of traction.
Finally, what would you like to accomplish now?
I would just like to make more films and continue to have the space in between to enjoy the life that I have, which I enjoy, and make sure that nature is always a part of it.
Well, Robert Redford, thanks very much for taking this time.
Well, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure.
Actor Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah, where we’ll be broadcasting throughout the week. Michael Moore, tomorrow.