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The Golden Boy Prefers to be Green

By • Nov 12th, 2008 • Category: Press

Robert Redford will be in Singapore to narrate Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at the Gala Opening Concert of the Singapore Sun Festival on October 18, 2008, but Floyd Cowan writes that there is much more to this actor than the ability to read a script.

In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up for the first time to create a movie legend. The movie also launched Redford into stardom and eventually superstardom, giving him the money to buy a piece of land in Utah that is now home to the Sundance  institute and the Sundance Film Festival. He has become an American Icon who has used his wealth and fame to promote environmental and social causes that are of great concern to him.

Where We Should Go Next?

Near the end of the movie, Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) are surrounded and are about to die in a blaze of gunfire:

Butch: I got a great idea where we should go next.
Sundance: I don’t want to hear it.
Butch:You’ll change your mind when I tell ya.
Sundance: Shut up.
Butch: OK, OK.
Sundance: It’s your great ideas that got us here.
Butch: Forget about it.
Sundance: I don’t ever want to hear another one of your
ideas. All right?
Butch: All right.

Early in his career, Redford must have felt more like Butch than Sundance in that he might have had great  ideas but people didn’t want to hear them, as all he felt they were more interested in the way was he looked than what he had to say. He was concerned that people wouldn’t take him seriously. “People have been so busy relating to how I look, it’s a miracle I didn’t become a self-conscious blob of protoplasm,” he said.

Perhaps it was only fair that he got typecast into that image, as when he was growing up in Santa Monica, California, he didn’t have much respect for the beautiful people of Hollywood. Later, when he had become one of the beautiful people, he turned down roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate because he was concerned about his image as a blonde-haired male starlet.

Global Warming Didn’t Get Much Traction

But serious he is. Redford has been a committed environmentalist for more than four decades, and an activist long before it was fashionable — and long before the words ‘global warming’ and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ brought millions to the cause.

In an interview with Phoebe Sweet of the Las Vegas Sun, Redford was asked how long he’s been an environmentalist. “Global warming has been an issue for 20 years at the Sundance Preserve (in Utah),” he replied. “We had a global warming conference at the preserve in 1989 and made a statement about how serious it was even then. But it didn’t get much traction. I’ve been committed ever since.”

With the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, Redford bought Timphaven in Utah and much of the surrounding land from the Stewart family. New York investors advised Redford to fill the canyon with lucrative hotels and condominiums, but Redford saw his newly-acquired land as an ideal locale for environmental conservation and artistic experimentation.

Hard-Minded Success

“When money comes along with success, it can really distort the mind,” says Redford, “You’d better be pretty hard-minded to stay with it.” Redford appears to have been pretty hard-minded. He not only kept his own land out of the hands of rapacious developers; he has fought to keep other wilderness areas pristine and undeveloped.

Beginning in the early 70s, along with other stars, he fought to keep the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, a 1.7-million-acre (7,571 sq km) expanse of land, out of commercial hands. It was a long battle that went from 1975 until 1996, when President Clinton effectively closed it to development. Redford continues to campaign for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Redford supports his causes in many ways. He donates money, he makes documentaries, he writes, speaks at events, and in 1996 he launched Sundance Channel, which is a venture of NBC Universal, Showtime Networks Inc. and Robert Redford. Sundance Channel operates independently of the non-profit Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival, but shares the overall Sundance mission of encouraging artistic freedom of expression. Under the creative direction of Redford, Sundance Channel is the television choice for independent-minded viewers seeking something different, just as is the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Channel Green

In July 2006, Redford announced that Sundance Channel would launch in early 2007 Sundance Channel Green: a weekly primetime channel focusing on environmental topics. Sundance Channel Green presents original series and documentary premieres about the earth’s ecology and concepts of ‘green’ living that balance human needs with responsible environmental stewardship. It became the first television network in the United States to establish a significant, regularly-scheduled programming destination dedicated entirely to the environment.

At the launch, Redford stated: “Once in a while, forces converge and affect social change. For some, this can be unsettling; for others, a time for optimism and new opportunity. For Sundance Channel, this is one of those times. Sundance Channel Green is a new initiative and a chance to play some part in making a difference in the world.” The Sundance Film Festival started small and has grown to be a mega event. Redford says that the success of the Festival has not caused him to change his approach to what films will be shown. “We don’t programme (the festival) for commerciality,” he stated. “We programme for diversity.” He also said that the films that get shown have something to do with sustainability — whether it’s cultural, environmental, or social.

George Soros Offers Funds

In an interview with Anthea Milnes, he said that Sundance quickly grew from being just an opportunity for independent film producers to show their work: “Once we had survived the first few years,” Redford said, “we had a platform that we could use to launch ideas from and to start effecting change: for example, breaking down gender barriers, and breaking down racial barriers. Then we were able to push documentaries, which deserved a greater place in the marketplace than they were being given. Then, with money from George Soros, we were able to go international, bringing independent filmmakers from all over the world to the Sundance Festival, and thereby shifting to a more cultural exchange.”

On October 20, 2006, CNN posted an article by Redford entitled, Kicking the oil habit, in which he asserted: “Today, the American people are way out in front of our leaders. We’re ready to face our toughest national challenges, and we deserve new and forward-looking solutions and leadership.” Well over a year before the current spike in oil prices, he wrote: “The recent surge in gas prices has touched a raw nerve for many around the country, reminding us of an economy that is increasingly uncertain for the middle-class; a growing addiction to oil that draws us ever closer to dictators and despots; and a fragile global position with a climate that is increasingly out of balance. I believe America is ready to kick the oil habit and launch a new movement for real solutions and a better future.”

Kick the Habit

If Americans were ready to kick the oil habit when the price of a barrel of oil was closer to $50 than to $100.00, they really must be ready now and Redford urges: “There is so much we can do right now. And there is a new groundswell of good organising and real world actions that we can take today to make this change a reality. The Campaign to Kick the Oil Habit is one way to connect to this growing movement. I hope you will join in transforming the face of America and in working to leave a better world for all of our children. I hope you will join me in signing on to this growing campaign at

“We’ve poisoned the air, the water, and the land. In our passion to control nature, things have gone out of control. Progress from now on has to mean something different. We’re running out of resources and we are running out of time”
Robert Redford

In July, Redford travelled to Kent, England to speak out against a coal- powered station: “Coal power plants are bad for public health; they are bad for the environment close by in proximity, as well as much farther away, as pollution is taken by wind and water. They contribute greatly to climate impacts in a highly negative manner, and thus are ultimately very bad for the local and larger economies.”

The Issues are Hot

Redford has supported grassroots movements and knows the importance of understanding what he is talking about. He is not simply an actor reading from a script. “I learned early,” he said, “that you’d better know what you’re talking about. You’d better realise that certain issues are going to be so hot — no matter what reason, what logic you apply to it — you’re going to be met with an opposition.”

How seriously does Redford take environmental issues? “I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defence of our resources is just as important as defence abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?”

Like most environmentalists, he understands that the earth does not belong to us. “We do not own this place, we are just passengers,” he’s been quoted.

His Support is Brilliant

The importance of the work that Redford is doing and has done cannot be overstated. His star power adds a lot of weight, as Benedict Southworth, director of the World Development Movement, noted after Redford spoke at Kent: “It’s brilliant that such a well-known figure has leant his support to our campaign. This is a campaign about climate change and its impact on Kent, but also on the poorest people in the world who are already suffering from drought, disease and flooding because of climate change.

Robert Redford is a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for grassroots campaigners who are coming together everywhere to fight new coal power stations. The film that he has narrated [Fighting Goliath:the Texas Coal Wars] resonates with the emerging coalition of people from all backgrounds in Kent, including councillors, stay-at-home mums and dads, local authority employees, furniture makers, and young people who are coming together to fight the new coal power station proposed at Kingsnorth in Kent.”

Progress now does mean something different, in no small part to the effort that Robert Redford has made; and he has created a legacy with his film festival and green television channels that will carry
on long after the sun has gone down on his own life.

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