Brought to my attention by Chatnoir on alt.native.
AMY GOODMAN: Issues that you take on that other people don’t, for
example, speaking up for Native Americans. You narrated the Incident
at Oglala about Leonard Peltier. Why did you choose to do that?
ROBERT REDFORD: Again, it was the story beneath the story that was out
there. I felt that what his case—because I was already very much
involved and interested in Native American rights and issues, I had
made some documentaries about it through the ‘70s. And I got a call
from Peter Matthiessen, the writer, who was wanting to write a book
about Leonard. This was back in 1980, and Leonard had just been sent
to Marion prison in Marion, Illinois, high-security prison. He
contacted me, and we talked about it.
And I knew a little bit about his story on Pine Ridge and that he was
being abused by the law, he wasn’t getting a fair trial, and that they
had lured him across from Canada. He had been a fugitive, and they had
lured him across from Canada on the pretense that he would be treated
fairly, and he wasn’t. Once he crossed the border, they nailed him and
put him in jail, because the other two had gotten off by poor
And so, Peter was going to be writing this book, and he said, “Look,
maybe you can help.” He said, “The guy is in Marion prison, and
there’s a rumor floating around that they’re going to take him out and
kill him.” And he said, “Maybe if you went in there,” because I just
finished a film about a warden, called Brubaker, and that was just out
in the cinemas and getting a lot of attention, so he said, “Maybe if
you went there.” So I did.
And when I went there, I met a lot of political activists that were
trying to help Leonard. And we met in a hotel room, and they were very
secretive and all that, and they said, “We know we’re being followed
or bugged.” And I said, “Well, what can we do?” And they said, “Well,
if you could just go in there, and it be known that you’re going in,
that maybe you could see him. And maybe just your appearance would
keep something from happening.” Now, I didn’t know whether that was
going to be true or not, but I was certainly willing to do that. So I
went in and met the warden, and it was a big deal, you know, me coming
into the prison and so forth.
So they took me down into—through these layers of cellblocks into the
deepest security. And the honor at that time was I was the first
person allowed to see Leonard live, without a glass in front of us.
And I spent forty-five minutes with him. That was all. And I was
convinced after that forty-five minutes that he was getting maltreated
and that it was not fit—that he was—what I was seeing was a
misapplication of justice and that there was a double standard in the
law and that he was being victimized. It was going to be an eye for an
eye, as far as the FBI was concerned, because they had blown the case
with the other two, so somebody’s going to pay. And they didn’t have
the evidence, but they were going to make him pay anyway.
So that led to a long, long time of trying to help him. And then,
finally—and I had lobbied in DC, and, you know, I don’t know if that
does any good, and particularly these days, but I decided a film might
be the better way to go, and if a documentary could be made about the
injustice of his case, maybe that would help.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play a clip.
LEONARD PELTIER: You are, and have always been, prejudiced against me
and any Native Americans who have stood before you. You have openly
favored the government all through this trial, and you are happy to do
whatever the FBI would want you to do in this case. You’re about to
perform an act which will close one more chapter in the history of the
failure of the United States courts and the failure of the people of
the United States to do justice in the case of a Native American.
After centuries of murder, could I have been wise in thinking that you
would break that tradition and commit an act of justice?
ROBERT REDFORD: In 1977, Leonard Peltier was sentenced to two
consecutive life terms in federal prison.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be back with actor Robert Redford here at the
Sundance Film Festival in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Park City, Utah, at the
Sundance Film Festival. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our interview
with actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re taking on, I mean, the major powers in this
country. The FBI takes the Leonard Peltier case very seriously. They
believe that he killed two FBI agents at Pine Ridge. He adamantly
denies this and feels he didn’t get a fair trial and has been
considered a political prisoner by many. Are you afraid of being taken
down when you do something like that?
ROBERT REDFORD: Well, not anymore. Those days are behind me. You know,
I guess you could look back—I took on the FBI in that one, the CIA in
Three Days of the Condor, the presidency in All the President’s Men.
So I suspect—well, maybe I shouldn’t say anything, but I don’t worry
about that anymore.
But the idea was, at the time, I didn’t worry about it. I thought it
was such an important story to tell. And I had the naive belief at
that time that if I were to tell a story well, through film, and it
reached the public, that it might make a difference in terms of
policy. And I learned, over time, that, no, no, that you don’t affect—
I don’t know that you affect public policy. You might affect fashion.
If I wear a mustache in Butch Cassidy and the film was a big success,
then suddenly mustaches are in fashion. But I don’t think All the
President’s Men or The Candidate or Three Days of the Condor or
Leonard Peltier or Quiz Show or any—some other films that I’ve made
that were making—trying to make a point about our society and how we
manipulate things in our society to our disfavor— …
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