Robert Redford Announces Milagros at Los Luceros in Santa Fe; A Training Venue For Native American and Hispanic Film Makers
After visiting the City Different for many, many years, Redford recently bought a home in Tesuque. And in typical fashion, he is already having a positive impact on the culture of his new “home”, Santa Fe.
The New Mexican recently published a great article discussing the project and other thoughts about New Mexico life with Redford.
Screen legend Redford speaks on New Mexico, film and social change
By: Robert Nott | The New Mexican
Robert Redford speaks of New Mexico as if it’s his home. And in a way, it is. Though he was born in California, he first visited the state some 65 years ago, has lived here part-time in the past, shot one of his most memorable movies here — the 1988 film adaptation of John Nichols’ novel, The Milagro Beanfield War — and he just moved into a new house in Tesuque.
On Friday, Redford announced that he — in conjunction with Gov. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Film Office, and the state Department of Cultural Affairs — is launching Milagro at Los Luceros, a training venue for Hispanic and Native American filmmakers. Modeled after The Sundance Institute, which Redford founded in Utah in 1981, Milagro will offer free screenwriting, directing and acting workshops and labs as well as media-related discussions relevant to independent film.
Speaking over lunch at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen in Santa Fe, Redford recalled the first time he visited New Mexico in the early 1940s when his mother was driving from California to Texas to visit family members.
“We’d pass through these reservations and it was so different,” he said. “Native Americans on the streets, in blankets, the streets were muddy, no pavement, lots of artifacts around. I got fascinated by that.
“Years later, when I was 17, 18, and I had my own car, I was able to drive into these areas and explore on my own. I would camp out, spend time on the reservations, and the more I learned the more I realized there was a value here, and if we didn’t honor it, it’d be gone. So it became part of the fabric of my life.”
His was a troubled adolescence, he said. He was bored in school and wanted to either express himself artistically or “get my education on the streets.” His academic pursuits led him to study art at the Pratt Institute in New York City. That didn’t quite work out.
“There was a lot of anger that I couldn’t manage. I was very undisciplined,” he said. That changed when he began attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
There, “I was forced to focus, and I was forced to develop discipline in order to maintain the focus. And I took it so seriously that I developed my own work ethic.”
He graduated in 1959 and immediately got work both on the stage and on the small screen, guesting on many television shows including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone (“a great training ground”) before he acted in his first film, War Hunt, in 1962. He had his share of star vehicles in the 1960s, including Barefoot in the Park (1967) opposite Jane Fonda, but said real celebrity didn’t kick in until after the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969. After that, he racked up a steady string of critical and commercial hits, including The Sting (1973), All the President’s Men (1976), and his directorial debut, Ordinary People (1980).
It was around the time of Ordinary People that he conceived Sundance.
“When we started Sundance there was no independent film,” Redford said. “Independent film, in 1980, was a dead category. It was pretty much relegated to National Endowment grants. In fact, I started Sundance with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for $25,000.”
Sundance’s goal was to develop new voices in cinema by giving independent filmmakers an arena to develop projects and established mentors — directors, writers, cameramen, etc. — to guide them. Milagro, Redford said, will work the same way here in New Mexico.
“There won’t be any classroom stuff, no sitting in chairs and having someone stand up and lecture. I’m not big on that. To me it’s all about working, about getting up on your feet. You can sit around and read all day, but it’s when you get it on its feet that it all happens.”
The Sundance Film Festival was a natural, progressive step from the institute itself, Redford said, in that it provided a venue to screen the films made by participating filmmakers. He said Sundance needed four or five years to prove its success.
By that time, the independent-film bandwagon was picking up passengers. “A lot of other people came on starting with Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 drama),” Redford said. “Then people starting coming to Sundance who hadn’t come before, from Hollywood. And then they began to develop their own independent subdivisions: Fox Searchlight, Focus (Features), Miramax. Now they’re all folding. But when they started building those divisions, it was a sign that something was going right with independent films.”
Redford’s latest directorial effort, The Conspirator, is an independent in the sense that it has no distributor in place. It’s the story of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), one of eight accused conspirators charged with aiding John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It represents Redford’s desire to use film as a force for social change.
“She was the first woman put on military tribunal trial for Lincoln’s assassination, and the secretary of war at that time (Edwin M. Stanton), who engineered the whole thing, wanted the conspirators erased,” Redford said. “He couldn’t erase John Wilkes Booth, but he wanted the others, including Mary Surratt, erased. The question is not whether she was guilty or not. That’s not what the film deals with. It deals with how she was treated as they broke down the Constitution just to satisfy legal expediency because the war was only five days over when Lincoln was shot, and there was such fear that it was going to break everything loose again and the South would resurge.”
Redford hopes to finish editing the film within a month, and then — “Well, there’s no distributor. Who knows whether it will be released. Talk about living your own life.” He praised the cast, including Wright, who, he said, has “a very rich quality.”
Redford also spoke of his quest to educate himself so he could speak clearly on protecting the environment and other political topics. “They were always going after me. The argument was, ‘What does he know — he’s an actor!’ And that stuck until Reagan got elected and took that argument off the table,” he said with a laugh.
He also listed some of his favorite leading ladies (it turns out all of them are his favorites), his prediction that more and more films will be made away from Hollywood — hence his outspoken defense of New Mexico’s film incentive program, which draws production companies here — and his belief that actors must continue working out via classes and refresher training.
And how does he define himself? He doesn’t.
“There’s so many people doing that — particularly the press,” he said. “I got accustomed to that early on. As soon as you have success, you’re being defined. The media needs to find a place for you, so they create a definition. I resist it.
“What finally will define me will be the work — what I’ve done, and not what I say about it.”