He continues his passion for the independent film as the executive producer of the critically acclaimed Spanish-language film, "The Motorcycle Diaries," which recounts a life-changing journey through South America of a youthful Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the famed Latin revolutionary.
On Thursday, Redford stopped by The Early Show to discuss the movie, his Sundance Film Institute and the state of independent film today.
"Motorcycle Diaries" is about two young men who ride 5,000 miles in four months, exploring a continent they had only known in books. It shows Guevara when he was young, not as the commonly known icon seen on T-shirts and baseball caps.
"This is a story before the story, or the story before the myth, or the story beneath the story," Redford told co-anchor Hannah Storm. "So I think that story transcends borders. I think it goes way beyond being foreign film or art house film because of its humanity. It's about really two young guys; it's about youthful idealism, innocence."
In the course of it, he says, you see the paths diverge. "And you see the one, Ernesto, become impacted by the plights of the people, the issues with their land, the corruption, the people that are pushing them off their land and with them, their traditions and their integrity and their values. He connects to that and it impacts him so by the end of the trip, which is where the film ends. The story ends where the trip ends. You never get to the character that became Che."
The three-year project required Redford to travel to Havana to obtain the right to Che's diaries from his widow.
"That was one of the toughest ones of all, because she's really tough. And she and Castro do not get along," the actor said. Before the movie was released, he had to show it to the family and get their approval, something Redford described as "heading into a hornets' nest."
"She's there with her family. They had a family, five kids who are still alive and in Cuba. And it's about a family gathering to find out how this mythological character is going to be treated by film, all very sensitive to that."
When Storm said the film's star, Gael Garcia Bernal, is called the Latin American Marlon Brando, Redford responded, "The main thing, he's a good actor. That is the main thing, he's a good actor."
Redford said he hopes this movie will change the way foreign films are considered for Academy Awards.
"I think that a film should be judged on its merits as a film," he said, "and I would hate to see - I hope this film - because it's already breaking through. It's already transcending borders. Thank God, it's extremely successful and popular, but for the right reasons. It's a film that's about humanity and that, alone, transcends any kind of borders. So I'm hopeful this film might change the path to change the category."
With the hugely popular Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Film Institute (which he founded 25 years ago), Redford has become a prominent champion of American independent filmmaking.
Some fast facts about Robert Redford:
- Born Charles Robert Redford Jr. on Aug. 18, 1937, in Santa Monica, Calif.
- Won a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado, but lost it because of drunkenness.
- Attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
- Had breakthrough role at age 32, playing opposite Paul Newman in 1969's storied "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
- Won acclaim as an actor and headlines as a heartthrob in roles in "The Sting," "The Way We Were" and "All the President's Men."
- Won an Academy Award in 1981 for his directorial debut, "Ordinary People."
- An ardent conservationist, he used his movie-making riches to buy land in Utah, where he later founded the Sundance Institute, which promotes American independent films.
- Started the influential Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Film Channel.
- Married Lola Redford Van Wagenen 1958; they divorced in 1985. They had four children, one of whom died as an infant.
- Father of Shauna Redford, a painter; David James Redford, a screenwriter; and Amy Hart Redford, an actress. Has one grandchild.
- Was named Entertainment Weekly's 30th Greatest Movie Star of All Time.