Robert Redford discusses Penn, 'ghetto'-life and his reasons for opening a new campus theater. Actor-director-producer Robert Redford visited campus Friday to unveil plans for a new art-house movie theater complex on 40th Street, a move that will allow him to take on another hyphenated title: that of movie-theater owner. Redford, one of the film industry's most respected and powerful figures, starred in classics such as The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- the film for which the chain of theaters is named -- and won an Oscar for directing 1980's Ordinary People. In 1979, he founded the Sundance Institute to help develop independent films. He bought the U.S. Film Festival and renamed it the Sundance Film Festival in 1984 to showcase these types of films. During a Friday press conference, Redford announced that one of the first branches of his chain, a joint venture with General Cinemas, would open on campus. After the press conference, he sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian for about 20 minutes to talk about movies, his relationship with University President Judith Rodin and his commitment to helping the West Philadelphia community. DP: You said that the University's efforts to involve itself in the community were the major reason you decided to come to Philadelphia. How did you first become aware of the University and President Rodin's efforts? Redford: Because I was aware of the programs she was trying to install, and I thought it was the answer to the future. I think the universities' stepping out of their ivory halls and engaging with communities is the answer to the future because of the collapse of leadership at the top, both morally and politically. The cynicism we are now living in [comes from] a kind of desperation about not getting any access to real culture?. The answer, rather than coming through the federal levels, is going to come through the communities. I'm pretty focused on the importance of community, whether it's a community of artists or academics. The synergy of the challenges of an urban environment and the university's mission and the dynamism that comes from that, with us maybe being a catalyst, moving into that equation, feels really good for me. [It] feels like a possible way to create the sustainable future. In other words, I think we all need to be thinking now, as we cross the millennium line, what sustainable elements are going to get us into the future. I really believe in this one. I mean, this is like an ideal situation. Here, you have a university with a president with a lot of innovative programs to take on these challenges of a depressed economy and a depressed ghetto area and revitalize it using the University as a tool. And for us to go into that atmosphere, I see us a bridge or a way to help out. DP: When you came earlier in the year to visit the site for the first time, what specific features most attracted you to it? Redford: The thing that really got me was the clear physical evidence of where the rubber meets the road in terms of a depressed area and the university experience. I mean, the University ran right up into a depressed area. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to relieve this depressed area and change it. And so for us, that space was right smack where those two met, and I thought that was really great for us, because we could draw from both. DP: You talked extensively about how you wanted to make the new complex a locus of the community and the school, and that's also one of President Rodin's goals. How do you see the Sundance Cinemas accomplishing that? Redford: By using art as a vehicle. Film is an extremely attractive medium; it attracts people from all walks of life. So, using that kind of magnet is kind of like a culture tool. We're going to treat film as a cultural experience rather than as a straight exhibition experience. [That] is what really puts us in the mix, where we can work with the University by having University programs work in the center -- by having programs involving the community itself outside the University, pulling them together. We help in being a bridge in [President Rodin's] effort. But it also satisfies our needs, too. If there was no Judith Rodin, we wouldn't be trying to do this. It's just [that] a lot of things come together around this particular site. DP: Did anyone in particular alert you to President Rodin's activities? Redford: That's what led to my call [to her in China last January]. First of all, I was aware of her work at Yale [where she was provost from 1992 to 1994].? I have a real interest in what universities are doing, what role are they going to play in the future -- are they going to accept responsibility for playing a role at all, or are they are going to stay frozen in some sort of ivory tower? I was aware of some of her forward-thinking ideas. Then, after she came [to Penn] and we were putting everything together and we were going around the country looking at various sites, looking at what was available to us what was possible, because we can't go wherever we want. You're running up against retailers that have a lot more money than you do, and retailers dominate a lot of real estate opportunities. I'm not interested in going into a mall. A mall is a last resort. Malls are about consumption, and we are about culture. I was just aware of her programs and when we were looking at the sites and they said there was a U. of Penn site showing up as a "maybe," I said, "Wow, that's great -- let's find out if the University would be interested in working with us." ? So I called her out of the blue; she was in China. She got me in China. She called me back from China. We had this conversation, this sort of jet-lagged conversation, and I said, "Look, I'm going to come and see you." And she said, "Great, come talk to us because it sounds like synergy." That's how it happened.Comments powered by Disqus
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