Redgrave bathes in controversy


SAG HARBOR, N.Y. -- While accepting her career achievement award Thursday at the Hamptons International Film Festival, Vanessa Redgrave showed that the past half-century has dulled neither her talent nor her penchant for controversy.

During her conversation with the equally outspoken Alec Baldwin at the Bay Street Theatre here, the pair touched upon their mutual disdain for government actions and Redgrave's memorable performances, including her Academy Award-winning role in 1977's "Julia."

In the conversation in front of 200-plus attendees, Redgrave said that California spends more on its prisons than schools, to which Baldwin drew laughter with his response: "You're not going political on me now? Because you know I have no tolerance for that bullshit."

Redgrave continued, "We're losing all our human and democratic rights in all countries all over the world." Noting her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, she added that "if every politician devoted their entire attention to the well-being of children, they'd change everything in 10 years."

Baldwin said that she has remained an English citizen, and Redgrave cited her World War II childhood as the root of her own love of her country and citizenship throughout the world.

Nearly 30 years have passed since her infamous Oscar acceptance speech, where she decried "a small group of Zionist hoodlums" from the Jewish Defense League protesting her support of Palestinian refugees. It's something that the JDL will never forget, even though Redgrave has stated that she supports Israel's right to exist, and even in her Oscar speech said that she would fight against anti-Semitism.

JDL chairman Shelley Rubin said in advance of the actress' appearance at the Hamptons fest, "Even though many in the motion picture industry happen to be Jewish, any and all of them responsible for giving her work or honoring her as the Hamptons International Film Festival has done evidently suffer from either self-hatred or idol-worship."

When asked for a response in an interview, Redgrave declined to listen to Rubin's statement. "Whatever they think is what they think," she said. "They have a right to their opinions, and I have a right to mine."

Redgrave acknowledged that her politics have cost her jobs over the years. Although she's won humanitarian awards, this is only the second full career achievement award in her 70 years, something also likely attributable to her politics given her many acting accolades. She plays coy about reportedly declining Damehood in 1999, saying it's official protocol not to disclose any offer.

"Whatever I was offered or wasn't, as a UNICEF representative I work for all the children," she said.

HIFF board chairman Stuart Match Suna said his fest is no stranger to controversy, having hosted the Conflict and Resolution film program featuring Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers. "I'm a Jew who's visited Israel twice, and it's a very complex geographical, religious and political situation there," he said. "Vanessa is a true artist who cares about humanity, and artists need to be provocative and provoke thought."