(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)
THE REELER: Take a minute, if you don't mind, to explain The Guitar's story and how you became involved in the project.
AMY REDFORD: It's about a woman named Melody Wilder, who, in one of those classically bad days when bad things happen in threes, finds out she's got a terminal illness, gets fired and then dumped. And she's lived this anemic life where she's not allowed herself to enjoy the more sensual things in life. She really has nothing to live for; she contemplates suicide, and one thing leads to the next and she decides the opposite -- live as full a life as she possibly can before she goes out. One of those things involves allowing herself to buy beautiful things she's denied herself and eat things she's never eaten and have sensuality she's never had. But her true love -- the thing she's been so consciously yearning for -- is the 1963 red Fender Stratocaster that she's fantasized about since she was a kid. That object is what beckons her from her path. She goes for it and teaches her how to play alone in this palatial loft she rents with the last of her money. So it's about her awakening and what happens when we're confronted with our mortality -- how often it's until something is taken away that we realize its value.
R: The film was written by Amos Poe, who's long been an influential figure in New York independent and underground cinema. How did you two connect?
AR: I was introduced to him by a friend who thought I'd be interested in the script from an actress point of view. He told me the story the film was inspired by, and it was timely for me at an early-30s crossroads in my life. We started a friendship. The property had been optioned by someone else at the time; I was kind of dancing around it, but after a while, when reading the script, I kept firing myself as the actress and hiring other people in my head. I had been looking for something to direct for quite some time, and I ended up pitching the story to a couple of producers who were pitching me with something I didn't think was very good. They really liked it. I went back to Amos, who had given it to somebody else to direct. I really liked the story that Amos wanted to tell, and I was worried that it was going to go off in a direction that he no longer recognized. So I asked if I could option it and direct it.
R: Sundance is a welcoming and popular environment for actors-turned-directors to premiere their work. What was your experience adapting from one role to the other?
AR: I actually started directing when I was in high school; I directed a play as a senior project. I knew it was something I loved, but I felt like I need more experience under my belt before I endeavored to direct [film]. Friends and colleagues have always told me I think about projects in a more global way -- as a whole, not just as an actor. It can be a blessing and a curse. I'd find myself going to see things, and a lot of my actor friends would say, "Oh, I could do that better," but I'd be saying to myself, "Oh, I know how to fix that." The instinct had always been there, but obviously you don't know how you're going to behave until your butt's in the hot seat. But I loved it. Being able to collaborate with some of the people I was able to collaborate with on this film was about the most exciting thing I've done professionally in my life. You're setting up a little mini-universe that has to work for the duration of the shot. I loved the process, and I think it didn't hurt that I'd been there as an actor -- I know the language.
R: You grew up around film sets with a father, Robert Redford, who is also an actor-director. What kind of advantage did that present while working on The Guitar?
AR: It's hard to say; it's just the soil I came out of. I certainly had the fortune to talk to my Dad about the process and how he goes about it. My brother's a screenwriter as well. There's great things about being able to talk to him as a writer. But you'll really making the decisions in a split-second way. It's either there inside you waiting to come out or it's not. There are a lot of things I respect and admire about the way that my Dad goes about making his films, and I tried to hold a little bit of that. One of the things people appreciate about his approach is his respect for people, which I think is something that is really important -- everybody on that set has an important part to play. It's hard to tell how that has influenced me, though.
R: You also have a lot of experience over your life with the Sundance Film Festival. What does it mean to you to premiere your film there?
AR: I couldn't be more honored to be premiering at Sundance. When I look at the company I'm in, I feel kind of overwhelmed and so excited meet those people and see their work. To be among them is a total joy and intimidating and wonderful. When I look at the film as objectively as I can, I think to myself that this is a film whose sensibilities are appropriate for this festival. It's not a huge film by any means; the artistry that people have brought to the table is work that should be seen. Saffron Burrows pulls out a performance that nobody's seen her do. Of course it's nerve-wracking; a jury of my peers is always intimidating, and it's the first public screening of the film.
But my goals are twofold. We don't have distribution, so it'd be great to see it in the right hands. And also, in my experience watching people go through the process, one of the don'ts that I've seen people do is that they get so caught up in the whirlwind and frenzy that they stop being present. I just want to try to keep my feet on the ground and remember the experience -- it's a gift.
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