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Robert Redford

The Womens Conference

How He Empowers Others

Robert Redford is somewhat of an anomaly in the entertainment industry. Though he has been world-famous for more than 30 years, he remains a highly private individual.  He is an ardent conservationist and environmentalist, a man who stands for social responsibility and political involvement and an artist and businessman who is a staunch supporter of uncompromised creative expression. His passion remains to make films of substance and social/cultural relevance, as well as to encourage others to express themselves through the arts.

This interest in the creative process, and creative expression in general, began long before Robert Redford set his mind on an acting career. Born in Santa Monica, CA, as a child his only sources of entertainment were the public library, radio and the local movie theater. Cartoons inspired him to draw and paint on his own.  Later, having attended the University of Colorado, he dropped out and went to Paris where he attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  Looking back, he remembers: "I had no resources other than my own will to explore, but when you are painting, you are your own man. Nobody tells you that you can't use the color red; all decisions are totally your own."

When he returned to the United States, Redford enrolled in art school in Brooklyn and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to study acting so he would better understand the needs of the theater. His drama teachers recognized his talent and set design soon took back seat to acting.

He landed his first Broadway starring role in Sunday in New York, followed by Little Moon of Albanand Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, directed by Mike Nichols.

From that point on, Redford had to struggle, like any actor, but "not too hard."  His first movie role was in War Hunt, in which Sydney Pollack, the man who would become a friend and frequently his director, played a bit part. He reprised the role of newlywed Paul Bratter in the film version of Barefoot in the Park, opposite Jane Fonda, for which he received praise from critics and audiences.  His early film work includes Inside Daisy Clover, with Natalie Wood, The Chase, This Property is Condemned, Tell Them Willie Boy is Hereand Situation Hopeless, But Not Seriousamong others.

In 1969, Redford and Paul Newman teamed to star in the Western, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.  Directed by George Roy Hill, the film became an instant classic and firmly established Redford as one of the industry’s top leading men.  He, Newman and Hill later reunite for The Sting, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, in addition to bringing Redford his Best Actor nomination.

He has since built a distinguished acting career, starring in such notable feature films as, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, The Great Gatsby, Three Days of the Condor, The Great Waldo Pepper, Brubaker, A Bridge Too Far, The Natural, Out of Africa, Legal Eagles, Sneakers, Indecent Proposaland Up Close and Personal, among others.  In 2001, he starred in Spy Gameand The Last Castle. In 2004, Redford was seen in The Clearing, and  in 2005,  An Unfinished Life.

Redford has starred in several films produced by his own Wildwood Enterprises, which he founded in 1968.  His acting and producing credits under the Wildwood banner include Downhill Racer, The Candidate, The Electric Horseman, and All the President’s Men, which earned seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture. 

In addition to his prominence as an actor, Redford won a Directors Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Director for his feature film directorial debut on the emotionally shattering family drama, Ordinary People. He went on to both direct and produce The Milagro Beanfield War and A River Runs Through It, for which he received a Best Director Golden Globe nomination; and earned dual Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director in 1994 for helming Quiz Show. Redford also earned two Golden Globe nominations (Best Picture and Best Director) for The Horse Whisperer in 1998 and went on to direct and produce The Legend of Bagger Vance in 2000. Following November 2007 release of Lions for Lambs, in which he acted, produced and directed, he is currently in post production on The Conspirator,which he produced and directed and is scheduled for release in the latter half of 2010.

Redford also produced A Civil Action starring John Travolta and served as an executive producer on the films How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Slums of Beverly Hills, No Looking Back and She’s the One, and the September 2004 release, The Motorcycle Diaries, which were produced under his South Fork Picture banner.

For television, Redford recently executive produced the first American episode of the PBS series, MYSTERY!  Based on Tony Hillerman’s novel, “Skinwalkers,” the script was written by Jamie Redford and directed by Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) and stars Adam Beach (Smoke Signals) and Wes Studi (Dances With Wolves) as Native American detectives Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. MYSTERY: Skinwalkers premiered in November 2002. Previously, he executive produced the telefilm Grand Avenue which aired on HBO in 1996.

A large part of Redford's life is his Sundance Institute (named for the outlaw he played in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), which he founded in 1981. The Sundance Institute is dedicated to the support and development of emerging screenwriters and directors of vision, and to the national and international exhibition of new independent cinema.  Their highly acclaimed Screenwriting, Directing, Playwrite and Producing Labs take place at the Sundance Village mountain retreat in Utah, founded by Redford in 1969. 

The Sundance Film Festival is a program of the Institute and is internationally recognized as the single most important showcase of independent cinema. Sundance Channel, a further extension of the Sundance Institute's mission and dedication to independent filmmakers, brings television viewers engaging feature films, shorts, documentaries, world cinema and animation, shown uncut and with no commercials. Through its original programs, Sundance Channel connects viewers with filmmakers, the creative process, and the world of independent film. Launched in 1996, Sundance Channel is a venture between Robert Redford, Showtime Networks Inc., and Universal Studios.

Redford founded the Sundance Catalog in 1989 to support both the Sundance Institute and fine artists and their work. It has grown into one of the country’s preminent specialty catalogs over the past decade.  Redford further expanded the Sundance brand with the launch of Sundance Cinemas circuit in 2006 with two locations currently open in Madison, Wisconsin and San Francisco and others to roll out over the next 5 years.

In February 1996, Redford received the Screen Actors Guild's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring his enduring contributions to film. In March 2002, he received an Honorary Academy Award, recognizing his achievements as “actor, director, producer and creator of Sundance, inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere.”

It is significant that the movies Redford is proudest of are not the "career defining" ones, but smaller, heartfelt projects like Ordinary People, Quiz Show, Jeremiah Johnsonand A River Runs Through It.  Reflecting on his movie career, Redford says, "I have been able to make (some) films that were important to my soul. That's lucky in an industry that is business firstand art second.  Art is only accepted when it makes money. To make certain movies close to your heart, you have to hold down the cost, work at least twice as hard, and make sacrifices along the way. But it's worth it because doing what you believe in makes a huge difference."

In addition to his work as an actor, director and producer, Robert Redford has been a noted environmentalist and activist since the early 1970s and has served for almost 30 years as a Trustee of the Board the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Redford has been involved with many pieces of environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act (1974-75), The Energy Conservation and Production Act (1974-76) and the National Energy Policy Act (1989).

In 1975, he fought against the building of a coal-fired power plant planned for an area in Southern Utah surrounded by five national parks.  The plant was never built. In 1997, after a long and contentious battle, in which Redford worked with a large coalition of activists to save this very same area from commercial exploitation, President Clinton designated it the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In the early 80s, Redford founded the Institute for Resource Management (IRM), which he led throughout the decade, bringing together environmentalists and industrialists to resolve conflicts and promote sustainable development.  Under Redford’s tenure the IRM tackled issues ranging from the future of the electric power industry to resource development on Indian lands, off-shore oil leasing in the Bering Sea and urban air quality in Denver, Phoenix, Sacramento and New York City.

Redford’s final initiative under the auspices of the IRM was his 1989 global warming summit, Greenhouse Glasnost in Sundance, Utah.  It brought together the Soviet Academy of Sciences and policymakers, industry leaders, scientists and artists from the U.S. and the Soviet Union to focus on communicating the facts about global warming to a wider public audience. His Sundance Summit: A Mayor’s Gathering on Climate Change has followed up this work with the third annual summit having taken place in September 2007.

In 1998, Redford and his family put 860 acres of Sundance, Utah wilderness into a land trust in order to protect it from development for all time and recently increased the family’s protected acreage to some 5,000 acres and thus the Sundance Preserve was established.   This protected wilderness is home to the Redford Center which is the culmination of 25 years of public policy and other transformational work meant to foster new ideas about compelling issues of the day.  It is devoted to a distinct brand of problem solving, which embraces the belief that creativity and innovation are at the core of any significant social or sector change. The Center will continue to apply its well-tested and unique formula to the equally unique challenges of the 21st Century.

With the national arts advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, Redford has testified on Capitol Hill for arts funding, and organized since 2006 the annual National Arts Policy Roundtable which brings together high level decision makers and thought leaders from the public, private and civil sectors in dialogue on issues critical to advancing American culture and society. Focus to date has been the future of private sector funding for the arts; the role of the arts in building a creative 21st century workforce, the arts and civic engagement, and in 2009 the role of the arts in building strong, vibrant and connected global communities.

Redford remains active with local, regional and national organizations on a variety of environmental, arts and justice issues.

Robert Redford has received numerous awards for his environmental work, including the 1989 Audubon Medal Award and the 1987 United Nations Global 500 Award, the 1993 Earth Day International Award and the 1994 Nature Conservancy Award. He was also the recipient of the 1997 National Medal for the Arts by President Clinton and the 2001 Freedom in Film Award presented by the First Amendment Center. He was honored with the 2002 Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts: Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2004 Forces for Nature Lifetime Achievement Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  In December 2005, Redford accepted the Kennedy Center Honors for his  “distinguished achievement in the performing arts and in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the life of our country.”

In addition to the NRDC, he joined the advisory board of the Land Trust of Napa Valley in 2004 and is a board member of The Gaylord A. Nelson Environmental Endowment at the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin. He also serves on the National Council of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of the American Indian.  His board memberships have included the Environmental Defense Fund, The Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Policy Center, the Navajo Education and Scholarship Foundation, the Solar Lobby, and Yosemite Institute among others.  He is a published author (The Outlaw Trail). In 1979, he produced The Solar Film, a short film about solar energy that was nominated for an Academy Award.  Other documentaries he produced include, the award -winning Yosemite: Fate of Heaven and the feature length documentary, Incident at Oglala. He most recently served as executive producer on the 2007 feature documentary, The Unforeseen, a story of development encroachment and Austin, Texas Barton Springs.

He is a resident of Sundance, Utah.

Photo credit Kristina Loggia