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Robert Redford: leading man in Utah's film industry.

Robert Redford: Leading Man in Utah's Film Industry

The first year, I couldn't get a loan from the banks. The waiters didn't show up, and so the owners had to wait on tables. The stablemaster was more interested in the female customers than in the horses, and horses from our stables wandered in confusion all over the canyon. The Sundance Summer Theater was launched with a misfired rocket that fizzled on the stage. Vehicles stalled, sewers backed up, we were robbed, and the tree in the Tree Room died. A potential early investor who spoke eloquently about belief in our concept was hauled away by men in white suits. But we endured. To us, Sundance is and always will be a dream. What you see, smell, taste and feel here is a dream being carefully nurtured. It is an area whose pledge is to people. What we offer in the form of art and culture, spirit and service, is homegrown and available to all. - Robert Redford

What began somewhat as a private party at Robert Redford's Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon is now a year-round open house. And business is booming.

Sundance was a sleepy-hollow resort for the first several years after Reford purchased property there in 1968. It was a place where the actor brought many of his friends and where a few locals and out-of-towners came to ski. "But as we've grown and seen a tremendous response to our commercial and charitable programs, we've realized that we are in the mainstream, both as a ski area and as a summer resort. And there's no ambivalence about it anymore."

His statement has more meaning in the context of the institute's non-profit status. "Sundance is not a place of profit for me," says Redford. "There are other parts of my life for that. This is a lifelong project, a bit of a dream - one that I feel totally dedicated and committed to. It makes me feel good to do it. Few things in life feel better than seeing people and projects develop as a result of a chance you gave them."

The balance Reford seeks at Sundance is having an arts community that guarantees the quality of the environment while developing it enough to create revenues. "But most of the revenues go right back into the arts," he says, "and I can't think of a greater commitment to the arts than that, and to create jobs in the arts for local people."

"There is more talent in this state than anybody realizes," says Redford. "Unfortunately I've seen much of it go away, because there's not enough opportunity and encouragement. We're creating more opportunity for young people to develop in the arts. They can go elsewhere once they've developed, but hopefully they'll stay here and create product in Utah."

Reford, who grew up in Los Angeles, has been a Utah resident for three decades, and a voting citizen of the state since 1958. "I feel very chauvinistic about this state," he says. "I think Utah has a lot to be proud of, and a lot of potential to develop itself in the right way."

The overriding concern for Redford and staff is how Sundance integrates itself into its surroundings. "The love for the land will always be at the root of Sundance's primary goals."

Of the 4,000 total acres at Sundance, 400 acres are deveoted to skiing, and 50 acres are used to build facilities to support the Institute. "There are 2,300 acres here of developable land, and no more than 50 acres are being developed," says Redford, who was appointed "sewer commissioner" for the Sundance area. As such, he developed a master plan for water use and an advanced sewage system, a job that made him the butt of jokes.

From the biginning, Redford has played the key role in the design of Sundance in everything from the wood ceiling rafters to the menus in the Tree Room restaurant. Natural and cozy are the themes throughout Sundance. In every nook and cranny, one can find a very personal Redford touch.

Sundance Institute

In 1980, Redford got together with others in the motion picture and television industries to found the Sundance Institute. His mission was to support independent film-making and encourage a humanist cinema, and with its intense sense of community, its network and resource bank, Sundance quickly became a sought-after oasis. From the initial one-month laboratory for film-makers, the Institute expanded to include programs from playrights, composers, producers, and a dance-film-video lab.

"I have always felt the need for artists to have a place where they can try new things, experiment with new ideas and have the freedom to fail. That is what growth is all about," says Redford. "Sundance is a place where the meter is not running - a place where new ground can be broken, lines can be crossed, and high standards reached. Ultimately the projects we nurture can be tested in the marketplace. We're trying to create a community here, where film, dance, theater and music can share some space; what matters here is the experimentation, not the end result."

Originally created to help independent American filmmakers, the Institute expanded to include theater and choreography in 1985. Actors and writers gather to work on new scripts selected previously by committee. Several film projects developed here have reached the big screen, but the aim is not for Sundance to become another Hollywood.

"There's no resemblance to a film studio. We're not looking to be a production house," says Gary Beer, vice president and general manager. He reports that the Sundance Institute has grown dramatically since 1980, from an annual operating budget of $250,000 to $1.6 million annually. The financial impact of the Film Festival alone is estimated at $4 million a year. About 94 percent of the participants came from out of state, primarily from California (51 percent) and New York (22 percent). About two-thirds ski while they are here. Local support is also strong: some 3,000 people from Salt Lake City and Park City attend the Festival's film screenings - of the 30,000 total.

The Institute attracts some of the best and brightest independent filmmakers in the movie industry and gives them a chance to develop their talents. Workshops are held throughout the summer with the Film Festival at Park City each winter. (This year's festival is scheduled from January 16 to 26.)

While the initial focus was on American independent filmmakers, the programs are taking on international flavor. Filmmakers now come from Europe, Japan, the Soviet Union and Latin America. The Institute is also attracting top filmmakers as resource artists, including Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie"), James Brooks ("Terms of Endearment") and Oliver Stone ("Platoon"). "Sundance is an inspirational place for these people - a place away from the pressures of the marketplace, and a source or rejuvenation," says Redford. "The Institute has gone as I hoped it would in terms of the work. I always hoped it would be good for the state, but I didn't think it would be international. That was the big surprise. We now have the Tokyo Film Festival, the Latin and Soviet programs. But what we are, and always were, is a development station for an artist or a filmmaker to go from their beginning to making movies."

Redford: Utah Businessman

While some local business and political leaders have questioned his loyalty to the state, Redford says, "I do all I can to promote Utah and bring films into the state. I want to attract people to this state. My view is that many fascinating people and places have never been promoted that are of value in addition to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Promontory Point.

"I'm sometimes characterized as someone who is doing harm to the state - standing in the way of progress. It's unfortunate when you have to spend so many years living off an old distortion. Years ago, I opposed a power plant in Southern Utah. I was convinced that it wasn't going to bring the benefits that we promised, and I still feel that way. I have always been in favor of economic development in Utah. I have always brought films to the state. The Institute and Film Festival bring business to Utah, and I am one of the state's strong supporters. I'm trying to enhance the quality of progress."

In the penetrating interview by Paul Swenson (published in Utah Holiday, July 1986), Redford admits that his existence in Utah is somewhat paradoxical. "On the one hand, I came here to be quiet and raise a family, to have some peace of mind from what was likely to be a very hard existence for me. The business that I'm in is not an easy business to live in; it's not an easy business to raise a family in or to have peace of mind. It's full of distortion and extremes. And so I came here because I like the people; I like the state. It is where I wanted to build a life away from the work I had to do. This is where I chose to make my life. So I want to be quiet and private.

"On the other hand, if you're passionate about something, it's hard not to be an activist - it's hard to sit on strong feelings. I have a true love of the state, and my concerns have led me to speak out. When I speak out about my concerns, I hear, |Who are you? You're an outsider.' When I shut up, they say, |We're glad you're here; you're doing so much for the state."

Redford's environmental sensitivity has prompted him to speak out on certain issues. "I always think that I'm speaking out in the best interest of the state, as I see it, and speaking for a wide part of the population. For example, I don't think interstate trucks should be allowed in Provo Canyon, because I don't think the canyon can take it."

Putting his money where his mouth is, Redford founded the Institute for Resource Management, a forum for environmental issues "dedicated to resolving conflicts between the use and preservation of America's natural resources - to educate business, government and environmental leaders, and encourage them to collaborate in solving important resource problems."

The IRM sponsored the Greenhouse/Glasnost Sundance Symposium on Global Change, which attracted participants from the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and other parts of the world.

Environmental concerns have also kept construction in check at Sundance. Some "cottages" were built to provide lodging. "But this is all tied into the overall concept about the arts at Sundance and what we're trying to do," says Redford. "I realize that in the United States, we're a development-oriented society. Sundance is not a private game preserve, nature conservatory or national park. It is a development, but a particular kind of development. There's a strategy and design to Sundance that is unique."

For Redford personally, Sundance offers seclusion. "As I get older, I probably get less able to cope with the weight of being a public figure and the baggage it carries. It may be hard for people appreciate this. But over time, being in the spotlight has a real down side. I value privacy, and that's one of the reasons I live here. But it gets harder and harder; you just can't go anywhere as a normal human being; you can't behave normally. And, of course, the fear is that first, you will be treated like an object; second, that you will begin to behave like one; and third, that you will become one. That's a fearful situation, because I like exchanging with people.

"I started as an artist in my life. It meant a lot to me to observe people and sketch them and paint them. What I learned about human nature and behaviour had a lot to do with the ability to observe and exchange with people. That gets removed from you, when you become a public figure, because people come at you with all kinds of distorted stuff, and you're not treated like a normal human being. So it's harder to behave like one. You begin to seek places where you can be normal, and that's why privacy becomes important. You don't like the shadow that the spotlight throws on your relationships with other people, friends and family; you don't want them to inherit the shadow that you cast."

Now that the Sundance Institute has celebrated its 10th anniversary, Redford is leaving the day-to-day operations more in the hands of others and doing more films. During the |80's, since "Ordinary People" and prior to "Havana," Redford directed one film ("The Milagro Beanfield War") and acted in three ("The Natural," "Out of Africa," "Legal Eagles"). This summer, he directed "A River Runs Through It."

Redford says that today "the visual image is speaking stronger to a lot of us than the printed word. And I don't consider that great news. I think it's dangerous that the written word is sliding away in favor of the visual image. There is great power in the visual image, but it's hard to find an intelligent piece of material that has integrity and quality and doesn't have all the obvious escape hatches like violence and sex. I like films about dignity and intelligence in human beings and in relationships and about the contest between independence and dependence, adventure and security."

Redford and the Sundance Institute, with their various workshops, programs and festivals, are trying to create what they can't find in the markeplace.

Sundance Film Festival

The film festival brings members of the film industry together in a relaxed atmosphere, allowing an exchange of ideas and a mingling of people, where a director can sit in on a screening and see and hear firsthand what works and what doesn't in his or her new film. Since 1985, when the Sundance Institute began the festival, it has been the public manifestation of what the institute does out of the public eye for the rest of the year - give filmmakers the chance to experiment and home their work.

"The Festival has been successful on a national, now international level," says Redford. "If anything, our problems are now to control it - not let it get out of hand."

The festival draws people from all over the world and attracts such stars as Jane Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Danny Glover and Jamie Lee Curtis. There are selected screenings in Salt Lake City during the festival, considered one of the five most important festivals in the United States. Through the Film Festival, the Sundance Institute continues to showcase independent film. Each year the Festival gets stronger, "due to the audience, our friends from Utah, and the members of the filmmaking community."

Governor Norman H. Bangerter continues to cheer the Festival. "I congratulate the Sundance Institute and Robert Redford for ten years of artistic achievement. We are proud to have the Sundance Institute in Utah and salute the Institute's efforts to support the arts through its nationally and internationally recognized programs."

Leigh von der Esch, Executive Director of the Utah Film Commission, says, "We are honored to host guests of the Festival in our state and hope they will return to enjoy our unique and diverse landscape. We assist filmmakers with their production needs in Utah. We have the technical crew, talent, and support services here to match our exceptional scenic beauty."

Geoffrey Gilmore, Director of Programming at the Sundance Institute, says that the festival reaffirms the provocative nature of independent cinema and that the success stories of independent filmmaking have altered the face of America cinema.

Alberto Garcia, Competition Director for the Sundance Film Festival, notes that growth and success of the Festival point to the presence of a receptive and enthusiastic audience eager to discover the next interesting and important talent. "Each year, the industry, press and movie-goers alike flock to Park City in search of the film that would ignite things. It is this anticipation of discovery that makes the Festival exciting."

"I don't think an industry that gets too centralized is healthy," says Redford, "and so we are trying to maintain its diversity and create a more widespread audience alert to the rewards of alternative, independent films. I make some big budget movies as an actor, but my preference is to do low-budget, independent films. The movies that I've produced are all low budget films made independently for a major studio. They're in keeping with the kind of films we sponsor. The whole secret is making them better. That's what the institute is about, to help independent filmmakers make better products so that more people see them. Not enough stories are being told, not enough stories about people. If the films are good, this will change."

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the few that industry insiders attend in numbers. "It helps to keep the spirit of independent filmmaking alive," says Redford. "Here, the filmmakers are the stars, not the visiting celebrities."

In Park City, some 70 movies are shown, including several outside of the independent competition that represent a personal stake for Redford: a Latin American series, Soviet films and documentaries that come directly from the Sundance Institute.

Although the programs are thriving, a weakening economy has forced Redford and his Sundance colleagues to face uncertainty in raising funds for the expanded Institute. "We went through a painful process of trimming down to ensure our future, and decided to commit ourselves fully to the feature-film programs and the annual Film Festival. We will also continue to develop a core adjunct program, the Children's Theatre, and under its auspices, the Playwriting Conference."

Sundance has come a long way, but like any businessman, Redford says that he would rather look forward than look back. And the refrain is, "The best is yet to come."

PHOTO : Lab resource advisors discuss projects, left to right: Bob Estrin, Stanley Domen, Terry Gilliam, Glenn Close, and Carlin Glynn.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shelton, Ken
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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