Robert Redford flashed a brief glimpse of his Sundance Kid charm to a theater full of Utah dignitaries Friday night who gathered to celebrate his acting career — and watch what might be his last appearance on the big screen.
Away from the spotlight, he had much more to say, posting a fiery response to the imminent confirmation of controversial conservative jurist Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The actor, director, producer and founder of the Sundance Institute was guest of honor at a screening at Sandy’s Megaplex Jordan Commons, presented by Gov. Gary Herbert and Zions Bank to pay tribute to Redford’s career and his impact on Utah.
Redford thanked Herbert and Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, and noted how his relationship with the bank and the state have benefitted Utah, the Sundance Institute and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Redford then introduced the movie, “The Old Man and the Gun,” a real-life caper story in which Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who spent decades robbing banks and escaping from prisons, mostly for the thrill of it.
Redford, 82, declared earlier this year that he would retire from film acting to concentrate on directing and his work with Sundance. Since that announcement, though, as the movie has played at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, he has backtracked a bit, saying “never say never.”
Friday, Redford didn’t talk about any of that. Instead, he offered one wish to the audience: “I hope when you see it, you have as much fun as I did making it.”
Herbert, for one, doesn’t want Redford to quit. “This is just a new beginning, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Herbert praised Redford’s impact on the state. “He’s helped put Utah on the map,” Herbert said, both by bringing film productions such as “Jeremiah Johnson” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and for establishing the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival, which attracts some 100,000 film lovers each January to Park City and Salt Lake City.
Anderson joined in the compliments, mentioning Redford’s championing of the environment. Zions Bank, Anderson announced, is donating an undisclosed sum to the Sundance Preserve, which sets thousands of acres near the Sundance resort aside as wilderness.
While audience members were still getting refreshments and taking their seats, Redford’s note about Kavanaugh, “A Brief Message About Big Things,” posted on the Sundance Institute website and social media.
“Tonight, for the first time I can remember, I feel out of place in the country I was born into and the citizenship I’ve loved my whole life,” Redford’s letter begins. “For weeks I’ve watched with sadness as our civil servants have failed us, turning toward bigotry, mean-spiritedness, and mockery as the now-normal tools of the trade.”
The message doesn’t mention Kavanaugh or any politician by name. Instead, Redford addresses young people, saying, “I want to encourage you to dig deep for home and civility right now — to try to make connections with people you disagree with, to be better than our politicians.”
He closes the letter with a call to action: “This is our country too. Every woman, man, and child in it, our American future. We’ve got work to do.”