Film Scouts Diaries

2005 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Day 2, Part 2: Redford Talks

by Henri Bιhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 2, 2005 (part two) — As promised, our report on Robert Redford's press conference. Looking more handsome in his open-collar white shirt then he has in years and more relaxed than he's ever been in such circumstances, he expanded widely on the present situation in both the American film industry and American politics.

Yes, he would like to work with Paul Newman again. No, there is no definitive project at this moment. But yes, they have been talking about it and may have found a suitable vehicle for their re-teaming. "But the film industry has completely changed. (…) It is now geared to the youth market, to works that are closer to cartoons, or action films, or epics that cost 150 million dollars to make and 40 million dollars to launch." Yet he is still dedicated to making films that are more modestly budgeted and deal with reality-based issues.

It was apparently former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — "a personal friend for some years now" (who knew?) — who asked Redford whether he would be interested in coming to Prague — after all, she was born there. His response? "I've been interested in coming to Prague for about 30 years but somehow it never worked out! And when she said there might be an invitation from the Festival, I said yes." See, eons ago, when Redford backpacked through Europe as an art student, fascinated as he was by European history, he had wanted to do the Prague thing but "it was impossible in those days; the year was 1957".

But, he added, "that year-and-a-half I spent in Europe, discovering European cultures, had a great impact on me. It shaped my world view. I wanted to get out of my country perhaps to better understand it from other points of view. And when I did that, I began to shape how I would see the world, and how I would see my own country, including appreciating what was good about it. It had these freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of dissent — that many other countries were deprived of." At the time, he "just happened to be in a situation where the Hungarian revolution was going on, and I assisted as a volunteer to bring refugees across the Danube."

Since then, he said, he had met and befriended many Czechs, such as directors Jan Kadar and Milos Forman. or Frank Daniel who was one of the first people to work with him at his Sundance Film Institute.

Madeleine Albright indicated she might arrange for Robert Redford to possibly spend some quality time with playwright-turned-president Vaclav Havel. "I always admired him as an artist, and to see such an artist and activist for human rights become president of a country was very interesting to me. We have had very intense conversations and I am sure we will have more. The world could use many leaders like him."

From one world leader to another (Nixon) and another (George W.)... Asked about "All the President's Men", the recent (self-) outing of 'Deep Throat' and life in America today, he recalled the time in 1972 (Mr. Redford is a stickler for dates) when he was touring the United States to promote Michael Ritchie's "The Candidate" — he played the lead role and had produced that movie which emphasized how close election politics are to cosmetics marketing. As he was chatting with some political journalists that accompanied him on that junket, he heard them discuss a burglary that had taken place in the Watergate building. The journalists insisted there was more to the story than that. "And do you plan to investigate and write about it?" No way, he was told. "Nixon is sure to be re-elected, and if you want to survive in D.C. as a political journalist, you'd better not be on the wrong side of Nixon's men." Subsequently, he had tried to contact Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post investigative reporters that continued working on the story, but neither had returned his calls. Redford went on to make "The Way We Were" and "The Great Gatsby", then tried to contact Woodward again. This time, a reluctant Woodward agreed to meet Redford in a secret place. At that meeting, he confessed that he had avoided dealing with the actor, because he and Bernstein were under heavy surveillance and he was afraid some super-secret agent might have been impersonating the Hollywood star to find out who 'Deep Throat' was. Redford argued that he was less interested in the true identity of 'Deep Throat' than in the way two investigative reporters that are wildly different — one a liberal Jew, the other a rather conservative WASP — and don't particularly like each other can work together on a story that would soon rock the world. There and then, Woodward agreed to give Redford the film rights to the book he and Bernstein were going to write, but Redford would have to wait until the book came out. Redford agreed, the rest, as they say, is history.

And history has a strange way of repeating itself, Redford continued. As New York Times reporters are about to be jailed, as Time Inc. has agreed under pressure to release the confidential notes of its journalists, he sees the same stonewalling-deception-disinformation structure coming back full force. Beside the environmental issues he has long had with the Bush administration, his worst fear is the endangerment of free speech in America, as evinced by the all-out attack on PBS and National Public Radio — "I emphasize the word 'public'".

On a lighter note, when asked by an apologetic Czech journalist what he thought of Czech beer and Czech women, he laughed. "I love Czech beer, I drink Pilsen all the time." He also compared notes on different brews with no less than Vaclav Havel.. "As for Czech women, that is a question you should have asked me decades ago." As he confessed, he came to Karlovy Vary with his "partner", a remarkable European lady.

" A new partner?" Now, in our celebrity-driven age, isn't that enough to turn one back into n investigative reporter?

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