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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007 10:34 am

“Time is running out”

An interview with actor/director Robert Redford

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Untitled Document For a man with an aversion to interviews, Robert Redford certainly has a great deal to say when he sits down for one. Looking trim and fit and exuding a degree of energy that one might not associate with a man of 71 years, the iconic actor and director recently conducted a whirlwind cross-country tour to promote his newest film, Lions for Lambs, an engaging and challenging anti-war movie that’s bears more resemblance to the progressive brand of filmmaking of the 1970s than the disposable sort of entertainment of today’s Hollywood. Redford knows that this film, which co-stars Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, is an anachronism, so he’s agreed to an unusual promotional strategy, showing it on select college and university campuses across the country and engaging in question-and-answer sessions with students afterward. It’s obvious that he’s been energized by the experience of rubbing elbows with a section of the moviegoing audience that’s likely to ask, “Who’s that?” when they hear his name.
“I don’t want to black-cat myself, but they’ve been good,” Redford says when asked about the screenings. “A kid at Berkeley said, ‘You know, it’s not like we’re apathetic; it’s just that we don’t know where to go or what to do.’ I thought that was interesting, and I was wondering why that was the case. Do we have too much information, are there too many options, or what? If I were a politician, I’d be looking at this aspect. I didn’t know what to expect from this generation, and I was excited to find that their minds are active and they want to get involved.”
It’s obvious that the screenings have had a positive effect on Redford; he is eager to talk about the film and its reception. However, the notion of how other filmgoers will perceive the movie prompts me to ask whether he is concerned that he’ll just be preaching to the choir where his anti-war sentiments are concerned. “I’ve always thought that I was speaking to some kind of choir, but how big it was I never knew,” he says. “Where people are politically, I don’t know — but I know where I am. I would hope that there are some people out there who’ll say that it’s speaking to how they feel. I hope that it also provokes enough thought to maybe activate people in some way — any way — to act more than they are now, because I do believe that activism is needed in our country right now. Young people need to express a certain rage at a machine that’s killing their future, which should be in their hands, not in the hands of the leaders we have now — but I don’t know the country well enough to know how they will receive it. I don’t really know what the climate of the country is, but in a small way this movie will help me find out.”
As a veteran of various activist movements, Redford has seen a great many cultural shifts. Why have things changed so dramatically? “Well, I think there are a number of factors at play,” he says. “I think one big reason people were mobilized in the ’60s was the draft. I think if there were a draft now this administration would have been toast a long time ago, but that’s why there’s not a draft. Right now it’s just as bad as it was then; as a matter of fact, I think its worse in terms of leadership in this country. Secondly, the climate has changed so much. In terms of the young people today, there are so many options out there and there’s so much noise that the options available to them are obscured. Now, if something were to come up — and I’m not sure it’s not coming up on its own — I think that young people, from those I’ve been talking to at these screenings, are ready to act and do something about this war.”
It’s obvious that Redford is passionate about the issues raised by today’s war. There’s an intensity to Lions for Lambs that’s unlike the vibe of other films he’s directed. It moves much faster than his previous efforts and delivers a visceral impact that leaves the viewer shaken. “The pace of the film was dictated by the material,” Redford says. “After reading the script I felt there had to be a sense of velocity to it, as I had to show three different stories that were happening at the same time. I knew that I couldn’t just have three plotlines that revolved around talking heads in a room, and I knew there was a danger of that happening with this script. However, I didn’t want to give up the words that were being said by the characters, because that’s fodder for something deeper in the film. I always said that this has to be a very short film and move so fast that it would leave the audience wanting to talk about the issues it contains. I also wanted the film to travel at a very fast pace to underscore the notion that our time is running out where options to this war are concerned.
“My fear is that time is running out for all of us, and I hope that this film will make people talk and act about this war so that this fear of mine doesn’t become a reality.”
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