“I’ve always been shy, especially at celebrations of myself,” Robert Redford said as he sat down for a career retrospective at Friday night’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Vanguard award.
“But,” he added, “I’m glad I’m getting one.”
So was the packed Arlington Theater, which was just as sold out as the previous night’s Scorsese-DiCaprio two-fer, just with fewer screaming fans waiting outside on the red carpet.
The evening could have been a celebration as well for a possible Oscar nod for his return to lead acting in “All Is Lost,” a wordless one-man thriller about a sailor stuck at sea with a leaking boat.
But in a very crowded field, Mr. Redford did not make the cut yet again, a particular fate that’s dogged him over his long career —he has Oscars for directing, but not for acting.
However, none of that really mattered. Mr. Redford has such a long filmography, starting with appearances from the golden age of television — “Perry Mason,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” — that one can forget just how long this 77-year-old has been in the game.
As he explained, before acting he really wanted to be an artist, and had no temperament for school, blowing a baseball scholarship “because of drink,” he added matter-of-factly, causing seasoned interviewer Leonard Maltin to pause just a bit, unsure how personal the evening might become.
“It’s strange, it’s tough,” Mr. Redford said regarding the retrospective video of his greatest hits — “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Brubaker,” “The Way We Were,” “The Candidate,” “The Great Gatsby,” “All the President’s Men.”
“I don’t look back, never have,” Mr. Redford said. “One day you wake up and you look in the car mirror and you realize it’s history that you weren’t thinking of before. You were just going forward, going from the next thing to the next thing. You don’t think of what came before until it’s put before you, like this video. And then it gets weird.”
The evening covered a lot of history and a lot of Hollywood, helped by an interviewer and an interviewee with loads of knowledge between them. Mr Redford’s directing work was discussed as well as the work he’s done with not just the Sundance Festival (named after his character) but the Sundance Institute, which foments and guides independent filmmakers.
Robert Redford’s films have touched many lives, but the festival he helped start has changed the film industry.
“I wanted out and about,” he said about his pre-acting wanderlust. It took him to Europe, where he often painted or sketched in order to afford a meal.
“I wanted to find my own way. I didn’t understand that at the time, because getting there took a lot of difficulty along the way,” Mr. Redford said. “When I was young that led to an outlaw sensibility, and that led to independence, and then to independent film.
“One of the reasons I loved making ‘Butch Cassidy’ was because I could identify with him. I just felt comfortable with being slightly outside the box.”
The idea comes full circle with “All Is Lost,” as a man surviving purely on his wits and strength, all alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“I liked that there was no dialog and no special effects,” he said earlier on the red carpet when asked about the role.
“It was a very pure experience, just me concentrating on the character, and becoming the character in that situation was all I thought about.”
Mr. Redford said he had no prior sailing experience.
“I was a water guy, because I surfed in California and I swam in the ocean, but I was never a sailor.”
Does it make you want to be one now?
“No, not at all.”
SBIFF continues today with more films, the directors and writers panels, and the Bruce Dern tribute tonight.