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Robert Redford was presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 42nd Chaplin Award for life achievement on Monday night. The 78-year-old, whose big screen career spans more than 50 years, was celebrated by several colleagues and friends — whose remarks were interspersed with clips of his work, including the upcoming comedy A Walk in the Woods and drama The Truth — over the course of the two-hour tribute, which took place at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on New York’s Upper West Side, and which was followed by a dinner in the Time Warner Center. Barbra Streisand, his costar in the 1973 film The Way We Were, handed him his award.
Ann Tenenbaum, chairman of the board of FSLC, described the honoree as “an icon — a great actor, a great director and, bar-none, the champion of independent filmmaking of our time.” She added, “The world of cinema will forever be indebted to Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute,” the independent filmmaking lab — named after the character that Redford portrays in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — that the actor established in 1981 on land in Utah that he purchased in the early sixties. The location subsequently became the site of the annual Sundance Film Festival.
Redford’s three-time costar Jane Fonda — they collaborated on The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967) and The Electric Horseman (1979) — said they first met in 1963, when they were both young up-and-comers on Broadway. “I was in love with him for every movie we did together,” she said, noting that she was drawn not only to his looks but to his outlook about the world (she called him “a complicated visionary”) and to his abilities as an actor. “I don’t think there’s any other actor who’s had a bigger influence on American cinema,” she added.
Laura Poitras, who won this year’s best documentary feature Oscar for Citizenfour, thanked Redford “on behalf of all the artists who have attended the [Sundance Institute] lab,” where, she noted, she was welcomed in 2005, upon her return from a grueling visit to Iraq, to edit more than 250 hours of footage into her first film. She also applauded the 1976 film All the President’s Men, which opens with documentary footage and in which Redford portrays the journalist Bob Woodward investigating the Watergate break-in, for inspiring her colleague Glenn Greenwald and many other future muckraking journalists.
Also thanking Redford for having him to the Sundance Institute was Quentin Tarantino, who taped his remarks from the set of The Hateful Eight. He noted that he was accepted in 1991 to come and develop the script that would become Reservoir Dogs, recalling that it was the first that he had ever been taken seriously as a filmmaker by people outside of his own inner-circle — and the first time that he had ever seen snow — and describing it as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
John Turturro, whom Redford directed in the 1994 film Quiz Show, for which Turturro would receive a Golden Globe nomination, said that he has been in awe of the man his entire life prior to their initial meeting at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival, and that he was so pleased that Redford was everything that he had hoped he would be. “It was sort of a love affair,” he said of their long collaboration on Quiz Show.
Perhaps the most moving remarks of the night came from J.C. Chandor, the young writer-director whose first film, Margin Call, was launched into the world at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and whose second, 2013’s All Is Lost, starred Redford — and only Redford, in a physically-demanding part with virtually no dialogue. “He shot his first movie before any of us on the crew were even born, but he trusted us,” Chandor noted, noting how gratified he felt when, during the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival — the first time Redford was seeing the film — the two looked at each other and Redford smiled with approval. Chandor marveled that Redford ever agreed to take on such a grueling part, since he needn’t prove anything to anyone at this point in his career. Chandor mentioned Redford’s family, his films, his Sundance ventures and the other things on which he focuses — and said, to applause, “All of those things exist because you never gave in.”
Elisabeth Moss, on her night off from Broadway’s The Heidi Chronicles, remarked on how she has been fortunate to cross paths with Redford on a number of different occasions over the course of her career. The first time was in 2001, when she was invited to the Sundance Institute’s directing lab. The second time was in 2010, when she and her Mad Men costar Jon Hamm joined Redford in Cannes to promote the show’s addition to The Sundance Channel’s lineup. The third time was in 2013, when Redford arranged for Top of the Lake, the Jane Campion-directed miniseries in which Moss starred, to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival — from 9am until 3pm; it was the first miniseries ever to screen at the fest. Then, last year, Sundance debuted two Moss vehicles, Listen Up, Philip and The One I Love. And, most recently, Moss landed a role opposite Redford in the aforementioned, upcoming film The Truth, about “Rather-gate.” She said to him, “One of the greatest accomplishments of my career will always be that I got to act with you.”
Finally, out came Streisand, whose most celebrated acting vehicle is and always has been The Way We Were, in which she and Redford played the ultimate odd couple. “I’d like to share a few misty water-colored memories,” the 73-year-old said in introducing a slideshow of photos from the making of that film. She recalled that she first saw Redford in the 1965 film Inside Daisy Clover, focusing mainly on his dashing looks, and that she first knew that she had to work with him after seeing the 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson and concluding, “There’s a lot going on behind those crystal-blue eyes.” (She suggested that part of his allure as an actor is that “you never quite know what he’s really thinking, and that makes him fascinating to watch on screen.”) When, after a long courtship process, he finally agreed to star opposite her in The Way We Were, she said, “He kept asking me about Brooklyn,” laughing, “I guess he thought I was kind of exotic. I’m not sure, but he was kind of exotic to me!” Streisand quoted one of the film’s most famous lines, “People are their principles,” and said, “Hubbell [Redford’s character in the film] may not have believed that, but Robert Redford has lived every day of his life that way.” In closing, she chuckled that they were never married — “but we made something that will last longer than most marriages.”
When Redford took the stage to a standing ovation, he kept his remarks brief. “Forgive me,” he began. “It’s gonna take me a minute to come down for this sort of helium elevation I’ve been put into.” He continued, “I’ve never been one to look back… but I can’t help but reflect on the journey that took me here tonight.” The California-born icon cited the importance of New York in forming his worldview, which he summed up as follows: “To me, not taking a risk is taking a risk… For me, it’s [winning is] really the climb up the mountain, not so much standing at the top, because at that point there’s nowhere to go.” He closed, “Tonight, I feel very fortunate, and I thank you.”
Previous recipients of the Chaplin Award include Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Sidney Poitier, Catherine Deneuve, Barbra Streisand and, last year, Rob Reiner.
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