TELLURIDE, Colo. -- In his new movie playing at the Telluride Film Festival, "All Is Lost," Robert Redford plays a solo sailor adrift at sea. But the 77-year-old actor-director appeared very much at home Friday in the Colorado mountain resort, where he received the festival's career achievement honor, the Silver Medallion.
Redford, who studied art as a young man and went on to become an Oscar winner and founder of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, was making his first visit to the Telluride event, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
"When I started out as an actor, I carried this shadow of guilt that I should be a painter," Redford recalled in a wide-ranging on-stage interview with L.A. Times film reporter John Horn. But instead of trading one career for another, Redford said, he had a revelation.
Though he chose his path as a performer, he realized he could bring along his experience as an artist and focus on what he called the "humanistic side of cinema": the dynamic culmination of the three most important aspects of any film – the story, the characters and the emotion.
Past recipients of Telluride's Silver Medallion include Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Colin Firth and Marion Cotillard. Redford admitted that watching a series of clips from his 53-year career -- including excerpts from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), "The Way We Were" (1973), "All the President's Men" (1976), and "A River Runs Through It" (1992), which he directed -- was the most uncomfortable part of Friday's presentation in his honor.
He then answered questions, taking the discussion as far back as his first Golden Globe in 1965, when he received the award for most promising newcomer, male, for his part in "Inside Daisy Clover." He also recounted his initial phone conversations with Bob Woodward for "All the President's Men," (Redford portrayed the Washington Post reporter in the film) and the physical challenges of "All Is Lost," in which Redford did many of his own stunts, including his sailboat's capsizing.
Redford's medallion was presented Thursday night by Ralph Fiennes, who is in Telluride showing his new film, "The Invisible Woman," and worked with Redford on "Quiz Show" (1994).
In "All Is Lost," written and directed by J.C. Chandor, Redford plays a man lost alone at sea. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is almost entirely without dialogue. "I was ready to do it because of just that," said Redford.
Ultimately, "it was a test for what I can push myself to do," he said, acknowledging that at his age, not everything is as easy as it once was. But more than that, "All Is Lost" provided a chance to regain something he felt he might have lost.
His early success led to the branching out of his career, and Redford started directing films, and ultimately founded his Sundance empire, which now includes the festival, the Sundance Channel, and even a catalog.
"You get further and further away," said Redford, "but what you're really taking away from is yourself, as an artist. Doing 'All Is Lost' is what allowed me to come back," he said.