Live from the Ceres Conference: Robert Redford Charms Audience

Live from the Ceres Conference: Robert Redford Charms Audience

Wrapping up a jam-packed day at the Ceres Conference, Robert Redford took the stage Wednesday night in conversation with Sally Osberg, CEO of the Skoll Foundation. Redford opened by praising Ceres President Mindy Lubber and went on to tell many a captivating story, some related to climate change, some not.

"It's all evolutionary," Redford explained, "I started as an actor, acting led to producing my own movies, producing led to directing and success led to new opportunities" to work in the broader world towards greater environmental sustainability.

When asked about his mentors, Redford described a grade school teacher. As a kid he would draw stories during class, and couldn't be bothered to pay attention. In anger, the teacher made Redford show the class what he was drawing (cowboys chasing Indians over a cliff while being bombed). That teacher realized his story-telling was a talent that should be nurtured and once a week she would let him show the class his drawings.
Image from Ceres Program
The most memorable story conveyed Redford's humility and sense of humor. Redford had been asked to speak to a group of bankers in Utah. He wasn't sure why he was there and ended up delivering an angry harangue. At the end, there was dead silence and everyone filed out. Redford was doubting himself and thinking he'd made a mistake.

As he was leaving, someone approached Redford and said "Appreciate your comments. I have one question -- did you really jump off cliff in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?' "

"That's when I realized that what I say doesn't matter," he told the audience at the conference.

Osberg referred to Redford as "the quintessential social entrepreneur" given his work with the Sundance Festival, Channel and Catalog. "You must be proud" of your accomplishments, Osberg said. Redford laughed and said "I put my money where my mouth is, and I'm not a good businessman. Risk is a big part of my life." Redford said his central interests are art, commerce and conservation -- "Sundance is a triangle of this."

Redford received applause when referring to the new administration in Washington, "Thank God we now have a change -- we were desperately needing one." But he sees change as more grassroots and community driven than administration-driven.

"I'd been beat up good for speaking about the environment. I've been considered a treehugger, granola, and worst of all an actor. People wonder, 'what does he know?' " In the mid '80s, Redford heard leaders in both the Soviet Union and the U.S. talking about global warming, clearly ahead of their time. So he brought the two groups together to discuss at a three-day conference at Sundance in 1989. He sent a document that came out of that conference to George Bush Sr., and it never saw the light of day. No one knew about it. "It was a good idea, but not at the right time."

"Al Gore had the right timing," Redford explained. He gave three reasons for why Gore's 2006 film created a tipping point, whereas his 1989 conference did not:

1.    The film itself was powerful
2.    The film supplied overwhelming evidence of the consequences for our actions
3.    Wall Street realized there was money to be made by going green

"Change was in the air and it hit with a bang … lots has to do with timing, passion, personal feeling and commitment." He urged the audience never to give up.

In response to an audience question about the future of media and investigative reporting, Redford explained "investigative journalism is dying out as we knew it. But so are other things. This is a time of change. Painful things have to happen for us to move on."