Category Archives: Authentic Experience

Happy 80th Birthday, Bob Redford!

Mr. Redford, you have been an inspiration in my work. I join legions of independent filmmakers who thank you for your example, your guidance, and your encouragement. I wish you a very happy and healthy 80th birthday.

I was delighted to meet Robert Redford — who goes by “Bob” — in the recording studio back in 2011. His voice joined that of Warren Miller in narrating our film The Movement: One Man Joins an Uprising. Our movie told the story of people with disabilities finding freedom in the mountains. The finished film swept millions of viewers along on our characters’ journeys over their respective obstacles. But early in the film’s release I was feeling my own invisible obstacles as an artist and filmmaker. I didn’t feel comfortable arriving at Bob’s 2012 Sundance Festival brunch for the directors of that year’s films. I looked at a huge room full of people I presumed had gone to film school, or who must have had a better sense of what they were doing as filmmakers. I asked myself, “what the hell am I doing here?!”

Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Director’s Brunch, 2012

Something in Bob’s speech that morning assured me that, for all the congratulations we deserved, our job was only just beginning. Being a Sundance alum, I took him to say, was more about the path ahead than the work that got us here. Somehow that kick in the ass was more comforting than a pat on the back (I’ve always thought that I chose my career because it was something I would never be good enough at … and thus it would sustain and challenge me throughout my whole life). I left brunch feeling a sense of community with other storytellers who were doing it their own way: mavericks, champions of underrepresented voices, true creators.

“Something comes together that almost—for me it reaches a spiritual moment.” – Robert Redford on skiing

I think Bob’s challenge at that director’s brunch has mightily motivated me. I’ve made a new movie, Power of the River, that feels like a fitting successor to The Movement. It’s my feature debut, my first official foray into producing, and quite the leap of faith. About this new film, Bob was kind enough to say: “A cinematic adventure into the heart of wilderness, Power of the River captures the connection between people and the rivers that are our lifeblood.” It would seem his influence and encouragement are still key factors spurring my work onward.

To celebrate the occasion of Bob’s 80th birthday, here are more links and reminiscences, including Bob’s own words about “foolish courage” …

  • Read today’s Sundance Institute post for more of Bob’s words of wisdom for adventurous artists and storytellers.
  • Read my articles in the Huffington Post about that adventurous journey toward the Sundance director’s brunch back in 2012 including jumping naked into a frozen lake and hurtling half-blind down an icy highway.
  • Robert Redford on mountainsHear Bob explain, in his own voice, why he was excited to be part of The Movement:
  • Back in that recording studio in 2011 we went off-script for our narration and let Bob wax poetic about his connection to mountains. Here is the transcript:

Robert Redford on Skiing
Recorded July, 2011 for narration of The Movement

The first time I skied was a disaster. I was 11 years old and growing up in Los Angeles and somebody said, “come on, let’s go up to Big Bear and ski.” So I went there not having a clue. In those days it was long wooden boards and different kinds of boots. Their idea of showing me how to do it, to help me along, was just say: “Look, go up on the lift and when you get off snowplow.”

So you can imagine what my day was like; it was a disaster. I only had one moment where it was thrilling and that’s when I couldn’t turn and there was open space, and I just let the skis run and that was pretty exciting. I think that stuck with me, so that years later when I was living in Utah in the mountains, I realized I have to be completely a part of this environment—which means wintertime.

I took up skiing late in my life: my late 20s. Just like skateboarding or snowboarding or anything like that, it’s always frustrating at first because you’re clumsy and you make a lot of mistakes and you feel like hell. But once you cross that first threshold, then the reason for it all starts to come clear. I’ve loved speed all my life and always will. The thrill of moving quickly through the natural environment and feeling all that wonderful wind in your face, and making turns with your body that become more graceful, something comes together that almost—for me it reaches a spiritual moment.

Doing Downhill Racer, the reason I wanted to make that film was because I have been at sports my whole life. Skiing was the one sport I had not done as a kid; and if I was going to do a sport, I wanted it to be different from sports like baseball, football, or track maybe. For me, it was a combination of poetry and danger. I chose downhill skiing because of the danger, and there’s also a beauty in it. It takes a certain kind of foolish courage.

O, to foolish courage. May it always rise up to meet you on the path ahead, Mr. Redford. Cheers,

It Took a Punch in the Arm

As I stroll the frozen river path behind our home, I keep gingerly touching my left shoulder. It seems like there should be a bruise there. It feels like I got slugged— hard. It wasn’t a punch, but there is a battle going on under the skin of that arm. My body’s white blood cells have deployed and are frantically creating antibodies to defend against an unwelcome visitor: the poison tetanospasmin. The pain I feel is sort of like seeing black smoke rising from a distant battlefield— dramatic things are happening over there. And while I don’t endorse violence or pain as a way to crystalize one’s intentions, oddly this aching left arm seems to have helped me turn a certain corner on my next project.

For two years now the professional side of me has been extremely turned on by my mission to make a film in Bhutan. I’m heading over this April with a hand-picked cast and crew for an adventure on a wild, unexplored, threatened river. It’s got all the stuff my career thrives on: intriguing characters with deep passion and fascinating stories; a crew I trust but who, like me, seem a bit humbled by our expedition; a destination that awes the imagination and challenges the intellect; and— for me— an audacious leap out of my comfort zone.

It’s as if I’ve piled up all I’ve done before, climbed atop this unwieldy mound, and then stretched my arms and launched off. What is this sensation as I take to the air? The band Drive-By Truckers once crooned: “I’ve been falling so long it’s like gravity’s gone and I’m just floatin’.” Am I falling, floating, or flying now? Some days I’m not sure if I’m headed for a faceplant or a swooping arc through the air, but right now it feels like flying. And all due to this aching left wing.

The drops of poison in my arm are actually pretty benign. While they get a big response from my immune system, they won’t actually make me sick. But if clever scientists hadn’t pulled out their teeth, these drops of tetanospasmin would be marching toward my nervous system with bad intent. In about ten days I’d have lockjaw—tetanus—and would probably be fighting for my life.

Step into the wilds
Yesterday’s morning stroll felt like I was a character out in nature, not a guy working to film it for others.

This tetanus shot boosts another one from nine years ago, which, in turn, boosted an arsenal of vaccinations before my last trip to India. I’m getting shot up because the remote places where we’ll be filming are a long way from medical help and may well be teeming with the sort of invisible creepy crawlies that make us sick in really cinematic ways. But that’s not exactly the drama we want our cameras to capture.

I continue running my fingers over where the needle went in and ponder further. While I’m not exactly a thrill-junkie, I do get some excitement out of this physical reminder that I’m going there; way over there; deep, deep, deep into the way-over-there. And this, unlike the professional enthusiasm that has carried me through the two years of research and preparations so far, feels personal and intimate.

It takes me back to summers as a nature center staffer at Scout camp. I recall the “bear-foot” section of Mr. Bear’s Nature Trail where kids had to feel the moss between their toes to proceed (when building the trail, I had plucked the sharp rocks and thorns out myself by finding them with my own bare feet). I recall the tingle of excitement surrounding our rigorous scientific studies to determine if thirteen-lined ground squirrels and chipmunks prefer Froot Loops to Cheerios (they don’t, if I remember correctly, but perhaps John Gunther can double-check me). I can still feel what it was like to lead “night owl” hikes through deep forests using all of our senses except vision (and, in my case, without a sense of direction with which I was never gifted). Those things, from moss to chipmunks to near collisions with 100-foot spruce trees in the dark, were all experiences in nature that I could feel under my skin. And I suddenly find myself more excited for my own experience into the wilderness than for all the potentials of this film to reach others. Not that those other potentials went away, but this is what I’m feeling most right now.

I rub my arm again, wince, and, to Josie in my doctor’s office who administered the shot, I think: “Thanks, I needed that.”

Thanks for reading. Cheers,


Photos by yours truly

Wear My Condo Like a Scar

I wear my condo like a scar
Some people don’t like such wounds
But teenage boys and me
We see them as something else
A scar is a window to the inside
It shows we have guts

This is my salesman’s red car, I suppose
A sign of success not hardly paid off
Monthly payments loom
Erasing excuses,
Kicking procrastination in the ass
I cannot afford to fail

Upside down, under water
Like purple puckered flesh
It may not be pretty
But it shows I can dream
It shows I can reach
It shows I will heal


Photo by Steamboat Digs