The Kennedy Center

Robert Redford


Robert Redford
(actor, director, producer; born in Santa Monica, CA, August 18, 1937)

Robert Redford has a career that could fill three normal lives. He is an actor praised early on for his work on the stage and in television and then for four decades' worth of fine performances in films. He is a director and producer of acclaimed motion pictures. He is also an intensely committed champion of independent film. Through his founding and unflagging support of the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance Channel, and a nationwide chain of Sundance movie theaters, Robert Redford has fostered a generation of independent American filmmakers

A screen actor at the top of his career in 1980, Robert Redford felt it was time to give something back to the film business and so he founded the Sundance Institute, a multi-disciplinary arts organization dedicated to the development of artists of independent vision and to the exhibition of their new work. His goal was to create a film community where directors, writers, actors and composers could realize their talent in an atmosphere of collaboration, where two basic freedoms were guaranteed: the freedom to have a singular vision and the freedom to experiment in putting that vision on film. "Sundance created an opportunity of education through work that didn't exist before," says Redford. Since its inception, the Institute has supported nearly 1,000 artists through its training programs and thousands more through the annual Sundance Film Festival. Some of the most compelling films of recent years have been developed and premiered at Sundance: Hoop Dreams, Smoke Signals, Central Station, Three Seasons, Boys Don't Cry, Love & Basketball. The movie that launched the whole modern independent film movement— Sex, Lies & Videotape—was first seen at the Sundance Festival.

Still, Redford is first and foremost known the world over as one of the great movie stars.

Because of his golden screen image and his well-known love of the great outdoors, it is not a surprise to learn he was born in Santa Monica, California, sun-kissed land of sand and surf, where for a kid with stars in his eyes, Hollywood is just a joyride away. What is surprising, though, is that in fact, he was the son of a milkman, raised in a grim neighborhood where life during the depression and World War II was bleak. The young Redford spent what little free time he had not at the beach or going to the movies, but at the library. His favorite reading material: comic strips. There he learned about storytelling through words and pictures.

His first artistic ambition was to be an artist in Europe and in fact for a while he led the painter's life in Paris. He was also an oil worker, and he attended school on a baseball scholarship. Finally deciding he wanted to act, he moved to New York. Any serious young actor trying to make it in New York in the late '50s did TV drama, and Redford appeared in his fair share of televised plays. They were, in fact, his acting school and simultaneously he made his Broadway debut in 1959 in the comedy Tall Story. More romantic comedies followed leading up to his 1963 appearance in a classic of the genre—Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, a huge success that made Hollywood take notice. He had already made his film debut a year earlier in War Hunt, but now the offers came steadily. By the mid-sixties he was working constantly— Inside Daisy Clover and This Property is Condemned with Natalie Wood, The Chase with Marlon Brandon and Jane Fonda—none were safe choices. But then, reuniting with Fonda, he made the screen version of his great stage success, Barefoot in the Park,

His film career took off in earnest when he starred opposite Paul Newman in the stunningly successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Expertly blending comedy and an ambiguous love triangle told the story of how "the man" hunts down and kills the two outlaws in a freeze-framed bloodbath. The revisionist Western was perfectly timed to ride the tail end of the anti-establishment cynical sixties, and gave Redford the anti-hero creed needed to become one of the biggest stars of the '70s. He made the character-driven Westerns, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here and Jeremiah Johnson; the heist comedy The Hot Rock; the super-production literary adaptation The Great Gatsby; and the nostalgic adventure The Great Waldo Pepper. However, five iconic films from that era stand out: Punctuated by awesome skiing sequences, 1969's Downhill Racer is an existentialist meditation on the conflict between the independent-minded sports hero and the big-business that controls his world. 1972's The Candidate is a razor-sharp dissection of the inner-workings of mid-century American politics. For many, 1973's The Way We Were, with Barbra Streisand, the classic romantic melodrama. Three Days of the Condor is a paranoid thriller that perfectly captures the mood of the Watergate era. Which brings us to All the President's Men, which Redford produced and starred in as Bob Woodward opposite Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein. The intelligent dramatization of the investigation in the Watergate burglary showcases one of Redford's finest performances.

All the President's Men marks a major turning point in Redford's career. He continued making movies, including Brubaker, The Electric Horseman, The Natural, Out of Africa, but his interests shifted to directing and to his beloved Sundance Institute.

In 1980 he made his directorial debut with Ordinary People, which won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and best Supporting Actor for the young star of the film, Timothy Hutton. He went on the direct The Milagro Beanfield War, A River Runs Through It, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Horse Whisperer and the acclaimed Quiz Show.

That was also the year he established the Sundance Institute, which under his leadership continues to invigorate American and international film. The founding values of independence and creative risk-taking define and guide the work of the Sundance Institute.

They have always defined and continue to guide the work of its founder, Robert Redford: actor, director, producer and godfather to independent film.

September 2005
photo of Robert Redford