Jeanette Bennett, utahvalley360.com
Although Robert Redford’s film career takes him around the globe, Utahns claim him as their foremost celebrity, environmentalist and nature lover.
Redford’s Sundance, nestled just a few miles inside Provo Canyon, is the essence of the Redford family — thought-provoking, simple, humble and exceptionally beautiful.
Robert — or “Bob” to those who know him well — keeps a home in Sundance alongside the home of his only son, Jamie. As a family, the Redfords treasure the days they spend together at the base of Mount Timpanogos.
Although Jamie doesn’t have an official title at Sundance, he helps to steer the resort and all of its interests in the right direction. “I’m the family adviser,” Jamie says. “I advise my father on everything pertaining to Sundance.”
Forty-year-old Jamie is relaxed, confident and passionate. And these traits are all amplified if you ask him about growing up in Sundance and raising his own children at the world-class resort.
Jamie and I recently had a chance to talk about his father, his favorite Provo restaurant and the question he always asks himself when he gets on the plane to return to his California home.
Jeanette: Utah Valley is fortunate to be so close to Sundance and all that your family has created in Provo Canyon. What is your role at Sundance?
Jamie: In keeping with our family spirit, it’s pretty informal. I advise my father on everything that is going on at Sundance. My role is to be the main one of the three Redford children to know what is happening and why and how. Our generation is determined to respect the role of stewardship in this beautiful canyon. I make sure we know what is going on with the business.
Do you have an official title?
I can’t offer you an official business title — just my desire to see Sundance thrive.
What are your favorite Sundance memories?
My sisters and I grew up there — we spent our summers and winters at Sundance. My older sister and I remember the day Sundance was bought. We used to come here when it was owned by the Stewarts. I’ve watched it become what it is now. I learned to ski here, and we camped here a lot when we were kids. My love for the outdoors has stayed with me throughout my life.
And now you have a beautiful home here.
My home is a dream come true for me. I was 12 when my dad stood on this ground and told me this is where I could have a home someday. We built this home about five years ago, and it turned out exactly how I thought it would.
Does your family enjoy Sundance?
My wife, Kyle, has been coming to Sundance since we started dating n 1985, so it’s been 17 years for her now. It’s a safe place for children. My son Dylan, age 10, and Lena, age 6, are free to explore and be on their own a little bit.
What are your favorite things about Sundance?
This is a spectacular setting. I remember when I was 10 riding horses in open meadows, which were mostly dust bowls at that time because the land had experienced a lot of erosion. When my father purchased the land, the sheep herding came to an end and I saw the land come back to life. I saw the whole place transform. Sundance is one of the few places where environmentally it has gotten better over time. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some development, but if you put Sundance against other destinations, Sundance has seen very little change.
How do you work toward helping your children have the same wonderful childhood you did here?
I am attempting to replicate my own childhood in terms of giving them an opportunity to have unstructured time. I love for my children to come out and hear the silence and get away from all of the stimulation. It is really a good thing for them.
How do you feel about Utah?
Mother’s side of the family was some of the earliest inhabitants of Provo. Anyone who has Mormon ancestors loves to look back and see photos of them dressed in in their Sunday finest. My great-grandfather, Alma Van Wagenen, had one of Provo’s first automobile dealerships, and my grandfather, Frank, had a radio station where Novell now is.
So you have happy memories of growing up here?
I had a lot of terrific childhood friends in Provo as a boy. I loved to sit in the dugout and watch my friends play Little League. Coming from Manhattan for the summer, I really ate up the Americana that Provo has in spades.
Provo has changed a lot since then.
I’ve been dismayed at the haphazard development that has happened. The civic grid system laid out by early [LDS] church members was brilliant. As you go out into the newer reaches of Provo, you don’t see the same thoughtful, long-term care that the Mormon founders had.
It is sad, isn’t it?
It’s sad to me. However, this problem is not unique to Provo — it’s the story of the American West more than anything. Luckily, Provo sits at the foot of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world.
What do you enjoy doing in Provo?
My kids love to go to Tepanyaki and try to catch shrimp in their mouths. We love to go to the Indian restaurant on University Avenue. We’re always surprised at how good the ethnic restaurants are here. We also go to the Snake Creek Inn in Heber City if we get tired of the Tree Room and the Foundry Grill. Oh, and my son, Dylan, gives the wave machine at Seven Peaks a big “thumbs up.”
What is your favorite entree at the Tree Room?
I’d have to say the leg of lamb — and any of the desserts containing chocolate.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, I’m a screenwriter, and I have had two movies made and I also produced a documentary. The future for me is getting into directing films and working on my own projects. I’m going into production in the fall on one of my screenplays.
What does the future hold for Sundance?
The whole Redford family is very focused on getting Sundance to be a business that can sustain itself far into the future without becoming like every other destination. It’s not entirely easy to have a destination resort on the scale Sundance is. We want to maintain the values that have made it such a special place — preservation and the arts.
What is it like to have a famous last name?
Well, it’s the only last name I’ve ever had.
When you go to the dentist, for example, do people ask you if you are related to Robert Redford?
Yes, they do. And depending on my mood sometimes I say “yes” and sometimes I say “no.” But my dad makes it easy to be a Redford because of the way he has lived his life.
So you would say being a Redford has been a blessing and not a curse?
There are advantages, but there are disadvantages, too.
How close are you with your family members?
We are a very close family. We’re spread out geographically, but we talk almost too much on the phone. And we see each other every chance we get.
Do you have your get-togethers at Sundance?
We do. My dad leads a fast-paced, somewhat transient lifestyle, but if he were to pick one place to spend the rest of his life, it would be Sundance. This is where we all come together as a family.
What is your favorite season at Sundance?
One would think I would say winter, but I love the long days of summer and the explosion of greenery. Every day you can enjoy the burden of figuring out what great thing you’re going to do.
Do you work on your screenplays while you’re here?
I often bring my laptop to Sundance and set up an office and forget that I’m even here. This summer, I plan to stay for a shorter period of time but enjoy the stay — no computer. There is something magical about Mount Timpanogos.When I get on the plane to go back to California, I always ask myself, “Did I remember to look up, or did I miss it?” I don’t want to take the mountain for granted.
From what I understand, you are known as the environmental activist here at Sundance.
There is a very thin line between caring about Sundance and caring about the environment. It’s almost the same thing — you can’t value what Sundance is all about and not be passionate about the environment.
How do you promote environmental causes?
The North Fork Preservation Alliance has been set up in the past five years, and it is an educational outreach to bring children who might not otherwise have a chance and introduce them to the experience. We promote eco-friendly building materials. We introduce the idea of proper scale and design for the environment. The Sundance village utilizes eco-friendly practices.
How do you think Sundance is perceived by Utah Valley residents?
I’ve seen the perception of Sundance change with the weather in Provo. Sometimes people felt like it was their own backyard and that they were a part of the history attached to it. Other times the locals have felt like they were unwanted. Why the inconsistency? I can’t exactly say. Sundance is for everyone — whether you’re from Switzerland or from Midway. We want people from Provo to enjoy the restaurants and all we offer. If they don’t, they will be missing out on one of the area’s great experiences.
Do the Sundance employees see the Redfords as celebrities?
Rather than celebrities, I think we’re seen as the canyon’s major landowners — which is a little different than celebrity.
Plus, there are other celebrities who frequent Sundance.
And the wonderful thing about the locals that work at Sundance is they have a cheery indifference to it. They can make celebrities feel comfortable. More often than not, celebrities don’t see themselves as celebrities, so they prefer not to be treated as one. Of course, there are exceptions, but they don’t tend to come around Sundance.
Do you remember a time before your dad was a celebrity?
I remember when I was in first grade he was getting attention in some movies. I remember a time when he was perhaps known and perhaps not. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” brought a lot of attention.
How old were you then?
I was 8 years old. I was very conscious and aware of the change in people’s perception of my dad.
What is Robert Redford really like?
My dad is one of the most observant people you’ll ever meet. It is difficult for him to not have the anonymity that allows artists like him to observe the human condition anonymously — an important part of good and precise work. And yet, he has never lost touch with his powers of observation throughout all that has happened.
How would you describe your father in one sentence?
He’s deeply funny — he’s a lover of life and an American original.
Like father, like son. It’s been great to find out more about you. Thank you for your time.