James Redford writes, produces and directs for film and television. His latest directorial project, TOXIC HOT SEAT, is an HBO documentary film that examines the possible health dangers of chemical flame-retardants used in upholstered furniture. James’ film Paper Tigers, a documentary about troubled teens, the dark legacy of childhood trauma and one community’s mission to heal their own, is currently on the AFS slate.
What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?
As a six-year old, I saw the original PLANET OF THE APES in a theater in New York City. I was with a friend and his babysitter. There’s a moment in the beginning when the camera reveals the shrunken and desiccated corpse of a female astronaut whose time travel capsule did not work quite right. My friend lost control of his bowels and the next thing I knew, the babysitter was dragging us out of the theater. If you were to ask me to recall my first bitter disappointment, I would tell the same story.
What do you love most about being a filmmaker?
When I was a kid, I loved Hot Wheels, I love how you could make your own course with those plastic tracks. You envisioned an outcome and then built towards it. And when the car went from beginning to end as you envisioned, it was a deep thrill!
50 years later, the filmmaking process still gives me that same thrill. That my films strive to combat damaging ignorance, misperceptions, and indifference gives me a sense of purpose that gets me out of bed and into the world. I feel pretty lucky.
What do you like least about it?
That it takes some much time to do it right. I’m haunted by all the films I’ll never have time to make.
What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?
When I saw PARIS, TEXAS, my plans to write short stories and teach literature suffered their first fracture, but it took three years and an unnecessary M.A. degree in literature for the plan to fall apart. I actually told this to Wim Wenders, which is cool.
What is your favorite movie and why?
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?
The human brain is the coolest, most mysterious thing I know, so I would be a neuroscientist. Also, I am here today because of medical science, and my health travails (two liver transplants and countless other surgeries) have earned me an honorary degree in medicine that could help me pass the exams.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
I just finished two films about the biology of stress and the science of hope. It’s a deep look at how we can we help children born to difficult circumstances get a shot at happier and healthier life? That feels like time well spent. Is it my favorite project? Impossible to say. It’s like asking, “Who is your favorite child?”