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: http://bit.ly/bob-mtns
  • 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,

How my Favorite Authors Get On with their Words

Tom downs a whole bottle of wine with his words, talking and dancing until the wee hours, finally making love at 3 am. They eventually separate only to avoid the wet spot in the middle of the bed.

Ben brews honeyed tea from his words and serves it to his animal friends while they sit and discuss the frailties of the human condition. Fictional animals and Taoists seem particularly well suited to assessing human foibles. “And this tea could use a bit more honey,” says one of the animals hopefully.

Robert saddles up with his words on a backroads motorcycle tour, camping together under the open stars. Around each campfire they discuss the academic and intellectual conundrums that have haunted them since college.

Ken arranges his words carefully, picking out the seeds and stems, and rolls them tightly in rolling papers. He smokes them with deliberate care, exhaling perfect smoke circles.

Chuck sharpens his words like prison shivs, juggling them for audiences on a dirty Portland street corner. When he swallows them and breathes fire, people either leave whole dollars in his tip jar or storm off in disgust.

Opal steals her words from the sky, like they were butterflies. But she does not gas them, pin them to boards, or use their scientific names. She calls them fairies or gives them names like Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus. She mends their wounds with Vaseline and sets them free again so they may do her god’s work.

Theo dresses his words in whimsical costumes, except the littlest ones, whom he allows to remain in their pajamas. Together they concoct puppet shows and pageants in the living room.

Harlan measures his words carefully, mixes them with chemicals from the hardware store, and stuffs them all tightly into a metal pipe. He caps them, adds a fuse, and hands his readers a single lit match.

How do your favorite authors get on with their words?

Inspired by a relistening to the Indigo Girls’ heartfelt tribute to Virginia Woolf … we revere the books that shaped us, but do we give their creators enough love?

Thanks for reading. Cheers,

Photos above from some of my favorite book covers (except the bus “Further” by Joe Mabel) … can you match all eight images with my word dance for each author?

Hello Film, What would You Like to Be?

“Hello, film of mine. What would you like to be when you grow up?”

My film looks at its shoelaces. “I don’t know,” he mumbles.

I wait. I’m working on this.

“I guess I’m not sure about all this stuff you talk about: me making a difference in the world, saving a river, or whatever.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Well, yeah, kind of.” He scratches his nose.

I wait. I’m not sure if I should watch him or spare him the scrutiny. I pretend to examine my fingernails. I look up. Then I feel guilty, like I’m leering. I return my gaze to my nails, wishing I could study him without being seen.

“Actually,” he says hopefully.

This gives me a chance to make eye contact. I smile, genuinely eager to hear what he’s actually going to say.

“I think I just want to tell my story. I mean I don’t even know what my story is, you know? I think I just want to live my life. Like, you know, just go forward and see what happens.”

My smile is warming the back of my neck. “Yeah, I think I know what you mean,” I say.

He’s studying me now, as if waiting for a retort. Or maybe he’s trying to figure out what I might be scheming by not saying more. I return his look, trying not to be any sort of a schemer. He glances back to his shoelaces.

“It’s just that,” he adds, “it seems kind of limiting to think too much about what I want to do, or be, when I grow up.”

“You know,” I offer, pausing for effect before pronouncing Socrates’ name as Bill and Ted would, “Soh-crates said ‘the unexamined life is unfit to live’.” I figure an Excellent Adventure reference will assure him I’m kidding, but he turns and walks away.

He returns moments later with my blue hardbound college thesis. He thumbs, remarkably fast, to an inset quote on a page near the very end. He reads:

“It seems as if Japan differs from the rest of the major traditions of the world, all of which would accept the Socratic dictum that ‘the unexamined life is unfit to live.’ Japan might even counter by saying that it is the examined life that is unfit to live, because it is not life.”

“What blow-hard quoted that in his thesis?”

He tosses the thing at me playfully. This kid knows me.

Thanks for reading. Cheers,

Photo by Matthew Whalen, DP of Power of the River