A sold-out crowd packed into the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night for a one-on-one about the arts, activism and the environment between Mayor Javier Gonzales and legendary actor and environmental activist Robert Redford.
Redford, dressed in blue jeans and a blazer, captivated the audience, sharing stories about his youth, the origins of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and movies that have made him one of the most recognized actors in American cimena.
While the mood was light, Redford, who owns a home in Santa Fe, also sounded an environmental alarm, saying the planet is changing and that “our opportunities are shrinking.”
“The energy companies are not going to go quietly into the night,” Redford said when Gonzales asked him how to influence policymakers or at least counter the view that “cheaper is always better” when it comes to coal, drilling and fracking.
“They’re going to fight, and they have the money to do it — I’ve been struggling with that imbalance for a long time,” Redford said.
Redford touted the advantages of moving to alternative energy. Not only is it clean, he said, but it creates jobs. But that story needs to get told, Redford said.
“In looking at New Mexico, I’m thinking here’s this rich country, and if it continues going in the way that’s been in the past, which is oil, gas and coal, they [energy companies] have the power to keep the word out like that’s the way to go,” he said.
Redford described that view as short-sighted.
Energy companies are selling their message “without looking down the road and saying, ‘OK, what about tomorrow, and is there an alternative so we don’t have to rip up our Earth?’ ” he said.
Redford said he is committed to looking at New Mexico as a “rich possibility for the future” that strikes a balance and “saves some of the land that would be lost” to development.
“But it’s not going to be easy,” said Redford, who is 78. “I think young people are going to be the ones to really move it along.”
Redford told the audience that his passion for the environment took hold when he was a kid growing up in a lower-class working community in Los Angeles. The genesis, he said, was watching the city he loved “sort of disappear under my feet.”
“I didn’t feel that the quality that I loved when I was a kid was present anymore,” said Redford, who spent “a lot of time” in the Pacific Ocean because he loved to surf. “It turned itself over to indiscriminate development. It was come one, come all. It was like gold rush time.”
When he decided to start a family, Redford said, he decided to do something “to make the world possible for them.”
“What I was seeing around me was people were developing things right and left, and I wondered, if this continues, if it doesn’t get balanced out from what we preserve and what we develop, then what is going to be left for young people — my kids, their kids and other generations?”
Redford said he decided to live in Santa Fe because he had visited “many, many times over the years” and finally realized “I was coming here so often that there must be something more to it than I was imagining.”
“I felt Santa Fe was unique on a whole lot of levels,” he said. “It had land. It had sky. It had color. It had history. The history itself was fascinating to me because it was putting together three cultural elements: Anglo, Native American and Mexican.”
Redford generated laughs throughout the night.
One of the funniest moments came early in the conversation when Redford talked about the Sundance Film Festival.
“Am I talking too much?” he asked the mayor.
“No, you’re doing great,” Gonzales responded, generating applause.
“I’m suddenly getting bored with myself,” Redford said.
“You just stay talking,” Gonzales told him.
“What was I saying?” Redford asked, generating more laughter.
Glenn Schiffbauer, who has known Redford for 30 years and is the executive director of the Santa Fe chapter of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, said Redford’s attendance demonstrates his commitment to the city.
“Arts, environment and activism — you can’t find somebody who epitomizes all three of those any more so than Robert Redford,” he said.
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.