Interview: Robert Redford

“O.K., what’s up?”

This is how Robert Redford, i.e. The Most Important Person on The Planet, as far as the Sundance Film Festival is concerned, starts a conversation. It’s Friday afternoon, and he’s just finished an interview for Sundance Channel, is about to dash off to do God knows what (judging by the number of clipboard-carrying women hovering around him, the list is long), and we have somehow managed to snatch a few minutes of his time.

Before we get started, though, yes, he still looks Robert-Redford hunky. The hair is more reddish these days, and he likes to tuck under a black calf-skin hat. (The momentary displacement of the hat caused a mini panic before his Sundance Channel interview, with nervous cries of “Mr. Redford’s hat? Anybody?” Thankfully, it was retrieved.) But he is still all fine features and cowboy charisma, all the more so in his blue-jeans, leather boots, and blue, long-johnny shirt.

Asked what his role is, 25 years after he founded Sundance, Redford says: “I would rather be behind the scenes, because if you’re out in front, you walk into all the hype and energy, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. You can’t breathe. So I prefer to be behind. And I’m able to step further and further back as things are able to go on their own.”

Two years ago, Redford says he was worried that Sundance had lost its way, its “purpose,” as he likes to call it. The “red carpet syndrome” had all but drowned out the smaller films and filmmakers, and the “ambush marketers” had taken over Main Street.

So he took a more active role and reined things in.

“I felt that we were reaching a stasis, we were beginning to be a little loose, letting others sort of take over this festival. Last year was about going back to the roots. I thought it was a mistake to have just one theater, one film, open the festival. It made it look as though it was a gala premiere, and we’re about all the films. So last year it was about having multiple openings, we had four openings.”

This year there were five, all of which were small-scale, truly independent-in-spirit films, including PARIAH, which has acquired the unofficial logline: black, lesbian, coming-of-age story. It is said to make PRECIOUS look like a $100 million production.

Asked about the future, Redford shrugged and smiled his killer, bright-white smile.

“Who knows where it’s all gonna go? But I would just hope that the purpose remains the same, and we maintain the opportunity for a new place for films to be seen. If it ever comes to the point where they don’t need that anymore, then I suspect they won’t need me anymore, either.”

Mr. Redford, we strongly doubt that will be the case.

For more of Nicole’s dispatches at the Sundance Film Festival see her
blog on
The Daily Beast.