Published at: Nov. 6, 2007, 10:54 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
When they tell you that you have an opportunity to sit down with Robert Redford, you just say yes. The man founded the Sundance Film Festival, and has starred in and directed some of the finest films ever made. You just say yes. You don't care if the roundtable numbers rival the size of a small European nation (they didn't, in this case, but it easily could have depending on how they divided the number the requests for interviews). He directs and co-stars in a thought-provoking little film called LIONS FOR LAMBS, and rather than me extolling the artistic and political merits of the film, I'll allow Mr. Redford to do that for me (or you can read my review on Friday). But the one thing I know for sure, no two interviews with Redford on this or any other subject will be the same. The man loves to talk, and he's clearly enjoying this press tour when, as a rule, he tends to loathe them. This is a film designed to provoke and instigate conversation, with Redford usually taking the lead.
Question: Films and the film-going audience have both changed a lot since you first began producing and directing. Are you concerned that you might just be speaking to the choir here? How do you get around that or does that even concern you at all?
Robert Redford: Well, I imagined that I would be speaking to some kind of choir. How big it would be, I didn't know. The country has become so polarized, quite frankly, but in terms of that polarization, I don't know how great of a division there is in regards to how many people are here and how many are over there. I know who is extremely over there, and I think that it is so far gone over there that I don't concern myself with them. Where other people are is something that I really don't know. I certainly know who I am and the kind of films that I like to make and the way that I like to make them, which is to not to deliver propaganda with a ribbon tied around it and the answers all fixed. I prefer ending more with a question that can involve the audience and let them think about how they feel about the issues that are being brought up.
I don't know [how audiences will react], but I think I know what will be pretty predictable--pathetically predictable--and that would be the people in charge of the Swift Boat stories or Sinclair Oil or that institute that wealthy guy has in Pittsburgh. You know where they are going to go and it will be predictable because they will have decided already--in fact, that has already happened on their blogs. They have already decided without seeing it, and I expected that. On the other front, I would think, or I would hope, that there are a lot of people out there who, if they saw the film, would think that the film is speaking to how they feel. What is education going to do? What are young people in school going to do? What are they going to demand of their leaders who have sunk to such a low that there is no moral framework anymore. Whatever the film is doing on the front, I hope that people can relate or identify with it.
Then there is the other side--does it provoke enough thought to maybe activate you in some way? It doesn't have to be this or that but in some way, more than what you are doing now. I do believe that is what is needed in America right now…I think young people have to act and have to express a certain rage. They need to be raging against the machine because their future should be more in their hands than in the hands of the leaders we now have that are destroying them. That is what I hope but I don't know. In a way, that is the reason I'm here.
I don't like press junkets--I think they are boring and awful. They are no fun for you and no fun for me, and they spend a lot of money that I would rather them give to another filmmaker. I went to the studio and said "Look, I don't like going to a hotel in New York or L.A. and have a bunch of four-minute sound-bite interviews--I think that is just bullshit." I'd like to go out in a situation where I can have some interaction with people to hear their thoughts. I wanted to go to four major areas in the country with a lot of schools and have screenings for students [which Redford did the night before our interview] and submit ourselves to interactivity. That, to me, would be a lot more interesting because you aren't bulldozing the audience or hammering them over the head.
That is also good for the filmmaker because I am making the film in the dark on certain assumptions of my own and certain observations of my own. I don't know this country well enough to know how it will be perceived. Is it true that the younger generation today is more apathetic and cynical? I know that has been the held opinion for about 10 years, but I don't know how accurate it is. I'm not so sure that the pendulum that has been swinging one way isn't about to swing back into more activism even without a draft. I think that if there had been a draft, this administration would have been toast a long time ago.
That is why there hasn't been a draft, and that is why you have security contractors like Blackwater around. In fact, there are young people who are tired of these choices and want to have more involvement. There are a lot of things they can do, a whole lot of community activities, and the film even suggests one--do away with your junior year and use it to get out in the streets and find out who's who and what's what. The film attempts to throw some things out there to be thought about, but it doesn't say you have to do that. I guess that to answer your question, I don't really know what the climate is, but in a small way, this is my chance to find out.
Q: What have the reactions been at the Q&As?
RR: Good. I don't want to black cat myself here, but they have been electric. The University of Chicago is a very smart school, and so you expect a certain amount of intellectual jousting, but what has interested me are the similarities, the fact the people were interested enough to talk about it. There was a kid at Berkeley who said "You know, it's not like we apathetic. Apathy is out there and cynicism is out there" You couldn't be faulted for being cynical. He said "I'm ready and I'm energized. I want to do something but I just don't know where to go or where to put it." If I were a politician, I would be looking at that.
In Chicago, there were questions about working with Tom and Scientology. I said that I didn't care about that unless he tried to recruit me right in the middle of a scene. That has no meaning for me whatsoever. I was happy to work with Tom because he wanted to step into some new territory and because he had these wonderful characteristics to play this very dangerous guy. His character just addressed a version of what we now have, but he has the all-American look and intensity and energy--all the things that Tom actually has as a performer and I thought they would work very well for charming an older woman reporter. Last night, that question got shot down by other students. There were some other deep, heavy questions. There was one that went on for so long that I had to ask if it was a question or a statement because it was so intense and had so many parts to it. That is what is so interesting about this school.
Years ago, I was asked to come here for some kind of award and I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I said "Look, I'd like to bring something." I wanted to bring the film I was almost finished with, which was QUIZ SHOW, and they thought that was a great idea. In the film, which is about a quiz show and a scandal involving the Van Doren family and these sleazy producers that represent the merchant mentality of show business who are trying to convince him to go on the show. He is presented with the apple from the Garden of Eden and he is tempted but they are just leaning on him. They are hardly letting him breathe and finally, he starts to shake his head and says "I'm just trying to imagine what Kant would make of this" and the answer to that is when the producer says, "I don't think he'd have any problem with it." That was the punch line, that was the joke. We screened that and the minute he said "I'm trying to imagine what Kant would make of this," the place broke into a roar of laughter and they never heard the punchline.
Last night, I didn't know what to expect of younger people and what they are feeling and what I guess I was excited about was how active their minds really are and how I sensed that they really want to become involved and do something. Their egos want it--to do something that makes a difference. I think the thing that brought the strongest response and made me feel good was when someone asked if I thought that teachers really made a difference, and I said that I do and that I didn't think it takes 10 or 12 of them--you just need one or two to make a difference in your life if they come at the right time. With me, that happened in the third grade and again in college. I wasn't doing well and I wasn't interested in the rituals and the way they were being presented.
My mind was always wandering because I always wanted to be out in the world and getting my education through experience. A teacher saw this--at that time, I wanted to be an artist--and recognized it and said "Look, you are wasting your time here. Why make yourself miserable and have the school kick you out for not being able to make it?" That was the kick. I was feeling guilty because I worked hard to earn the tuition to go, and I was feeling guilty about squandering it.
I was saying to the students that the thing that is really important is for teachers to really recognize students instead of treating them as a faceless bunch, to really engage with students and say that this person is this person and that person is that person and let that person feel it. If a teacher can communicate that and support that, even if they drive you up against the wall, you are still being recognized, and I think that makes a big difference and that is what I think a lot of the students last night felt. The section of the film where I am with the student is very much about that. I'm feeling, "What good am I and what good am I accomplishing?" and yet, to recognize potential. . . I'm saying to this kid that I see you and do you really want to go this way? If you do, that's fine, and it is your choice, but the idea of that teacher recognizing that kid is what affects the kid. The kid is trying to defend himself but he is still beginning to feel that this teacher cares.
CAPONE: I wanted to go back to something you said before about the student who said that they had the motivation but didn't know what to do with it. A lot of us here saw the film CHICAGO 10 a couple days before we saw your film, and now you are here in Chicago, where students were willing to get their heads busted in 1968 as part of a protest. They had something resembling leadership at that time. Is that the problem? I've certainly thought about young people and their response or non-response to the war that there is no one to rally or organize them like that group had in Chicago in 1968 today, and there hasn't even been a singular event where they could all gather like that.
RR: That is because of a number of factors. By the way, we opened CHICAGO 10 at our festival this year. I felt it was the kind of film that should open Sundance because it was the kind of film that we support and also because I thought he was doing something new and might be a signal of what is coming in the future. He had live footage that he drew from about 200 different pieces of film, including actual stuff with Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden. Then when they went into court, where the real drama for their particular characters was, there were no cameras allowed, and so they took the transcripts and animated them. I thought that was really inventive and interesting--the blending of animation and documentary was new territory and that was why we showed it at the festival.
I think that it was the draft that galvanized and motivated people then. I think it was the time and I think history is this pendulum swing. The Fifties, which is when I grew up during my teenage years, was this dead zone, and it made me crazy. I was rebelling against was this too-perfect situation, which was dead to me by being so perfect. Nobody was worried about anything. We had just come out of the war and we were rebuilding our infrastructure, and it felt like there was no air. Then the pendulum moved and it was a new time and a new era and the draft is what galvanized it. There was also the music and a lot of drugs, freedoms were being exercised. This time is just as bad. In fact, I think it is worse in terms of what the leadership is doing to this country even though there is no draft.
Secondly, the climate has so changed--even the film business has completely changed since the time that I started. The studios aren't studios anymore, they are just clearinghouses that distribute films that other people finance. These other people are tricky because they are people who don't know films--they made their money with dot.com companies or hedge funds, and they want to rub up against the movie business because they have $25 million they can throw away. It is very complicated and the studios are only interested in distributing and making their money from that. They aren't invested in the way that they were. The same thing goes across the country in terms of young people. There are so many options out there but there is so much noise because the Information Age has so completely taken over.
I think those are the factors, but if something came up, it would be just like global warming. I've been involved with the environment since 1969, when I first became politically active, and I would just get hammered for years as being a nutcase or a tree-hugger or what have you. You are out there pretty much alone for a number of years and as time went on, you would struggle and fight and get knocked back by the oil and gas companies. We had a global warming conference at Sundance in 1989, and no one heard about it because it just wasn't the right time. Now, suddenly Wall Street realizes that there is money to be made by going green, and people can see the evidence in their own backyards and are saying "Oh, we'd better do something."
The tipping point has been reached, and it has moved fast in the last couple of years. I have a hunch, and you guys might know better than I do, but there is a feeling that I get that young people are ready to go, and it is just a matter of time before they find that thing and the film tries to encourage that.
Q: The thing that stuck me most immediately about LIONS FOR LAMBS when I watched it was the immediacy of its style. The majority of your previous directorial efforts have moved at a slow and measured pace, while this one is short and right to the point. Obviously, part of that is born out of the material because of the various short time frames and the fact that most of the scenes involve only a couple of people within the confines of a limited space.
RR: There is only one other film that I have done that had a pace similar to this and that was QUIZ SHOW. It has to do with the nature of the subject. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, for example, was a whole other kind of film--it took place in 1910, when life was more leisurely, in rural America with a river and water.
In THE HORSE WHISPERER, you are out west in the wide open spaces where life is slowed down. Here, what I did with the script was realize that it needed a velocity added to this and that it should all take place during an hour in which all three stories are occurring at the same time--just that alone will speed things up. I was very concerned when I first got involved and read the script that it was just talking heads in a room.
Where show business is, with a high pace and a lot of visceral and muscular action, this has words, which the studios usually consider to be death to a film. My objective for this film was that I didn't want to give up those words because they were important, but they were only fodder for the patterns of behavior that we can recognize.
I felt that this thing had to travel at a very fast pace because our time is running out. Look at what we have lost in six years and think how bad things can deteriorate in such a short time that is only getting shorter as time goes on. The idea of suggesting symbolically that time is running out for everybody--the professor, the students making choices, the reporter trying to get a story when she realizes just how dangerous what it is that this guy is planning to do and realizing that she can't write it because her editor just wants the scoop. This creates a tension and urgency.
This was the toughest film that I have ever had to edit because we had to put three stories together in such a way that none of them would flag or drop. I felt that the film had to travel so fast and provoke audiences into spending some time thinking about it because it is packed with ideas and packed with issues.
Everyone's point of view on the issues is represented, whether you like it or not. Tom Cruise's character does have a couple of points where the reporter says "Don't you think it is important to figure out how we got here?" and he says no, we don't have time. He says, "Okay, let's play it your way and bring the soldiers home: The Taliban metastasizes and becomes worse." Well, when we shot that scene, they hadn't but now they have. These issues are rolling around out there, but what sits underneath them? What is the condition that creates them? If that had been presented slowly and in a calmer way, I don't know if it would have the same impact.