Robert Redford has come a long, long way since the days he slept rough on the French Riviera, as a young man struggling to make it as a painter.
The actor-director, who is 74, is also the founder of the Sundance television channel. He was in Cannes for the MIPCOM audiovisual entertainment fair to promote the international ambitions of the network, which launched outside the United States last year.
After a mis-spent youth, Redford spent a year in France when he was 18, and the first time he visited the Mediterranean resort he slept under the pier opposite the luxurious Carlton Hotel.
Speaking to Toks Salako of Euronews from the more plush interior, the Oscar winning director revealed why the country holds a special place in his heart.
Toks Salako, euronews:
“What made you choose France to launch the international version of the Sundance channel?”
“It had a personal part to it. I really began my career as an artist here, and because when I was a kid I began to draw and I was made to feel that wasn’t important so I never felt serious about it. But it was always something that made me comfortable. I went through a difficult childhood and created trouble and was in trouble and so-forth and I was kicked out of school, and that was okay with me, because what I really wanted was to go another place. I wanted to go to a place that I felt had some history and had a sense of community with some artists, and that was France, Paris.
“You originally started the Sundance Festival back in the 1980s as a way of giving something back to the industry which has been so good to you. What were your reasons for starting the TV channel?”
“The TV channel? The TV channel came out of two other steps that began with what I call the Sundance Labs. In 1980, I was fortunate enough to have had some success in film and I was at a junction in my life where I could either just continue making the films like the ones I’d been making or take a pause and think about maybe putting something back that would be of value to the industry that had been so good to me. Because I think my nature has always been to be more independent, I was going to try and create something that would carry that forward and maybe bring some value to the industry. The concept is to create new opportunities for new artists, to have a place to develop and grow, and the result of that will, hopefully, create new audiences for those artists. And if you do that you’re helping create a new category, that can only help the business. I mean, let’s look at it in the general way.”
“How do you think your experiences can inspire young filmakers today?”
“Well, I think probably my experience, I think through independence. I’ve been pretty independent my whole life and that’s just the way it is…and I’ve wanted to remain independent, but not so independent that you’re outisde the world. Because, finally, you’re in a business where whatever you do you have to entertain. That’s the fundamental job you have to do, you have to entertain. But can you entertain in a different way? Can you entertain that is different enough where people haven’t seen something before, you bring a new approach or a new inspiration? So I guess the best thing I can offer would be an example of my own work and my own life, creating Sundance. Beyond that I don’t know what else I could offer other than example. Look, independence is not going to be for everybody. It’s a very difficult role to play in a world that’s controlled by corporations. Corportations have a very strong formula for money in return on their investment and all that. So, sometimes experimentation or independence is seen in a negative way. It’s seen as too risky, so therefore you’re going to have a struggle.”
“Are you still actively involved in mentoring young filmakers now?”
“Oh yeah. The whole point of everything we start in this lab programme is about development. So development is still in place and now more and more film makers have come through our labs. Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, some of the actors who are here today, Elizabeth Moss, Jon Hamm. They’re all people who came through our lab at one point or another, either as actors, new directors or new writers, so it gives me great pleasure to see these people have gone on and benefited from our process to enter the mainstream. But they’re also very independent.”
“So do you see yourself now as an artist or a businessman?”
“Not a businessman. Not a businessman. It’s like the word brand. When someone says “Boy, you have a great brand,” it made me nervous. It makes me uncomfortable; because for me the word “brand” was what you stamp on cattle, and I didn’t respond to that word, you know I didn’t think of that. I understand it, but it felt strange to me to hear that word. Business has always been not the most comfortable for me because I think more as an artist. So I will continue to be the artist and trust that the people I’m in association with are good business people.”