Redford beats political drum at Sundance
By Todd McCarthy, Variety Chief Film Critic
PARK CITY (Variety - 19 Jan) - Throughout his career, Robert Redford (news) has always been as involved in political causes as he has in film, and politics are very much on his mind these days as he prepares his 30-years-later sequel to "The Candidate" and confronts what he views as "threats around the edges" to Americans' freedom of expression and other basic rights and values.
Redford has been very much in evidence at the beginning of this year's Sundance Film Festival (news - web sites), speaking at opening night, appearing at screenings, hosting the annual filmmakers' brunch and giving numerous interviews. With Park City virtually bursting at the seams with gridlocked traffic and Main Street jammed every night with people who seem to have nothing to do with the festival, Redford and his staff may once again have to address the crowding issue, as they did a few years ago.
But the producer, director, actor and Sundance Institute topper seems more consumed right now by the big world outside the mountain-ringed festival. Declaring that "freedom of expression is our most precious virtue," Redford insisted that "we should be particularly attentive to preserving it because we're so blessed to have it, when so many other people don't.
"We have to be on guard not to be careless with it. Current political trends are toward power being in the hands of a very few people for the benefit of a very few people, and I see the threat of restrictions on all sorts of things, of the unraveling of constitutional rights, being able to be slid through under a lot of patriotic slogans."
Bringing these thoughts to bear on Sundance, Redford said, "One of the virtues of independent films is not only that they needn't be burdened by commercial dogma, but that they shouldn't be hindered in expressing different points of view. That's the reason I've always supported independent film -- that it created another voice to balance and serve as a counterpoint to what's coming out of Hollywood and the news companies that are all under the control of Disney and Viacom and G.E."
Redford had to admit that, thus far, he hasn't seen much political awareness or attitudes being expressed in the fictional work from American independent filmmakers. But he pointed to documentaries, which Sundance has always unwaveringly supported on an equal footing with dramatic fare, as the best gauge of the creative community's social commitment.
"If people are having trouble finding where the truth is these days, just look at the documentaries," he suggested, pointing out that the fest is presenting even more documentaries now with the addition of the World Documentary section. "We've always been about diversity of views and bringing new perspectives to the audience."
In a year that saw a record number of submissions to Sundance, Redford acknowledged the current tightening up of money domestically for independent production as "a good thing that will contribute to the weeding out process of what films should be made and which should not." Balancing this trend, however, is the mushrooming of digital production, which he views positively since "it's a part of the democratization of film."
Although he may act in a film for director Lasse Hallstrom this spring, Redford is most focused on his follow-up to "The Candidate," the 1972 Oscar winner about a senatorial aspirant's sometimes absurd journey through the political process. With Larry Gelbart's script due for delivery next week, Redford didn't want to reveal much about the content except that his character will be president as the picture opens. Redford will replace the late Michael Ritchie in the director's chair, and the picture will be shot later this year for release by Warner Bros. in the run-up to the 2004 elections.
Redford spent considerable time campaigning during the recent mid-term elections, and given the lack of success by the Democratic candidates he backed, it's understandable that he views the process with a more jaundiced eye than ever.
"It's more like a sports game," he said of the electoral process today. "There's less incentive for people who really represent the American people to run for office, and harder for those who would really challenge the system to have any success. There's far more cynicism now, and apathy is the result of cynicism. My message to filmmakers and anyone in a position to speak out is to please recognize that you have a chance to motivate young people to vote."