Friday night, Houston got a little taste of Hollywood when renowned actor, producer and director Robert Redford graced us with his presence. Redford was in town because of the 2012 Houston Cinema Arts Festival (HCAF), which ran from November 7 through November 11. Redford did not just come for the showcase of films; he was the recipient of the third Levantine Cinema Arts Award, which honored his artistic achievements.
A line of fans waited outside the Sundance Cinema Friday night hoping that Redford would honor them with a signature or at the very least show off his famous smile. Several fans held up large posters from Redford's oeuvre, All the President's Men, Butch Cassedy and the Sundance Kid and I think I caught a glance of an album cover for The Way We Were.
Redford was welcomed by the flashing of camera bulbs and a semi-red carpet. The eager fans broke into applause, coupled with a few "we love yous" before the actor headed into the movie theater that he is responsible for creating.
In addition to him receiving the award, an hour or so of time was scheduled for Redford to have a one-on-one conversation with HoustonPBS' Ernie Manouse, who hosts a weekly interview show called Innerviews. Suffice it to say the ticketed event was packed.
The hour that followed was a candid conversation between Redford and Manouse covering topics such as Redford's prolific career, his dedication to independent film and his love of the craft. Manouse is a skilled interviewer, and he led Redford down a path of openness and honesty.
Of the topics discussed, the Sundance Institute and its various spin-offs offered a rich source of conversation. Redford created the Sundance Institute in 1980 when he looked around and realized how difficult it was for independent filmmakers to get anything accomplished. Redford mentioned how "good" Hollywood had been to him, and his spirituality told him to give back to the industry that had given him so much. He gathered up his friends (also Hollywood royalty) and asked them to lend a hand. The first few years of the Institute were slow going, but eventually Redford saw the potential that this creation had.
After a few years, it dawned on him that he was helping small films become made, but there was no one to see them. It was this realization that led to the Sundance Film Festival, now one of the biggest draws in the indie film world. "We thought, let's have a festival right where the Institute is... and let's put in the middle of winter to make it weird," said Redford. For those who do not know, Sundance happens on Redford's property in Park City, Utah, which is very cold in the winter.
At the time there was nothing else like this, and Redford still believes that Sundance is the only fully independent festival that exists.
The next step of Sundance's evolution was when Redford, frustrated with how long it took for Sundance films to be released into theaters, created his own television channel. The Sundance Channel shows some of the brightest films of the festival, among other things.
In addition to this line of questioning, Manouse steered Redford towards his personal life, such as his thoughts on multi-tasking as actor, producer and director. Redford explained how producing was not something he ever wanted to do, but he felt it was a necessary evil. When you want a movie made how you want it, you have to produce it, he said.
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A interesting fact about Redford that many may not know is that he rarely watches any of his work. "When it's done, its done," the actor stated matter-of-factly. He went on to tell an amusing story about he and his grandson at a video rental place one holiday. Their goal was to rent a "classic" and Redford happened upon a copy of The Sting. His grandson had never seen it and neither had most of his family. Redford was slightly irritated by his family not having seen such an important component of his body of work but soon realized that he had also never seen the movie. Apparently, when it came out he was off on another shoot, and over the years he had never bothered to catch it in its entirety.
Another great story that Redford regaled the crowd with was an incident between himself and actor Paul Newman; the two were great friends and loved to play jokes on each other. Because of Newman's incessant yammering about sports cars, Redford found a totaled Porsche and had it towed to Newman's Connecticut home while he was away. Several week later, Redford returned to his own home to find the car compacted into a cube in the middle of his living room. He assumed this was the work of Newman. Redford took the next step by giving the hunk of metal to a sculptor he knew who created the "ugliest sculpture he had ever seen." He then had the hideous piece of art dumped into Newman's garden. The funniest part of the story was that neither actor discussed this series of practical jokes with each other, ever.
As the evening concluded the floor was opened up to questions. Someone in the audience asked the $100 question, "So what's next?" Redford smiled his famous smile and said, "Keep rolling on and make the most of it."
Surely the fans waiting for him out front would have been glad to hear it