Rebel with a cause
Robert Redford became a cultural icon at a time when being a cultural icon still meant something. And he did it the old-fashioned way: by rising to the top of his profession as an actor and then turning around and working tirelessly to give something back. A bit of a badass as a kid, he learned commitment when he began studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in the late 1950s. That sense of purpose (along with a generous supply of talent and the gift of looking like Robert Redford) drove him to the pinnacle of the film world, and it’s been driving him in deeper directions ever since.
He became an energetic advocate for a lot of different environmental causes. In the early ’70s, he considered a run for the U.S. Senate but abandoned the idea, perhaps warned off by his movie The Candidate (1972). In 1981, around the time he was winning his first Oscar (as Best Director, for Ordinary People), Redford created the not-for-profit Sundance Institute in Utah to promote independent film. It was a field that at the time was badly in need of promotion. “When we started Sundance there was no independent film,” Redford told The New Mexican’s Robert Nott earlier this year. “Independent film, in 1980, was a dead category. It was pretty much relegated to National Endowment grants. In fact, I started Sundance with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for $25,000.” Sundance spawned the world’s most prestigious independent film festival, a cable channel, and a lot of satisfactions and headaches for its creator. Redford’s “inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere” earned him an Honorary Academy Award in 2002.
Another issue that has been a part of Redford’s awareness since he first drove through New Mexico with his mother in the early ’40s is the plight of Native