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by Karen Pecota

It is common knowledge that the documentary film is most dear to Robert Redford (Sundance Film Festival founder); this explains the reason why this festival category has been expanding for the past ten years. Redford believes that documentaries are information the news media is vacating and, in the future, it is likely that we will be looking more and more at this form of media to tell us the truth about our world. Redford will always create an opportunity for the truth to be told using the documentary vehicle because filmmakers risk their lives everyday to tell true stories. These narratives are real and have staying power. Redford applauds such filmmaking efforts and is willing to provide a much needed platform.

Ironically, Redford was asked at the opening PC to describe his reaction to the documentary showcased at the festival called Smash His Camera. Redford’s facial expression brightens and he chuckles. He jokes that while this documentary is not made by filmmakers who have risked their lives to tell a story, there is a truth revealed about Ron Galella, noted as the original paparazzo. His passion puts him front and center in a debate for the First Amendment right to privacy and affords him recognition for his amazing photography.

Redford adds, “You will see in the documentary that this guy is a real character and for over thirty years, he has been after me. I am bound and determined to never let him photograph me and he was sure he’d get me one day. Well, I will tell you one fast story, I think it’s funny and I am telling it because it’s a story where I win.”

Redford begins, “Some years ago, I was filming at the New York Times building and before filming one scene a guy comes running up to me and said NBC is doing a story on Ron Galella trying to photograph you. I laughed and thought, “Well, now, that is really going to be a substantial program!” The NBC building is right next door so I am now aware that Ron is going to try to get some shots of me at any cost. The situation is just too perfect for him to pass up. During filming, there were sections roped off to the building and street. People would have to wait and couldn’t get near those areas. When the shoot was complete, the ropes were dropped and the people could quickly pass by the filming area. Filming in New York City always creates interesting dynamics and this shoot was not an exception. My trailer was located at the end of the filming lot (farthest end of 43rd street). I was not sure how I was going to get from the filming location to my trailer without being spotted by Ron. The producer from NBC comes up to me to give me the details of their filming. I tell him I know all about it. I inform him that I will do my best to prevent Ron from capturing me. I resume filming scenes where all can see. Ron is thrilled because he knows that I will have to come out of the building after the shoot to get to my trailer. He has the camera crew on his side. They are all ready and waiting for my appearance. He yells at me loudly while filming on the street, “I’m going to get you Bob!” On this particular day, it was very cold in New York and we were on a heavy time schedule. I rigged a get-away but was not sure it would work. At the end of the outdoor shoot, I come back into the New York Times building for the next scene. I talk to the producer and ask him what happens when you have to change the entire set-up? He explained the mechanics and I asked for a favor in that when they broke to set-up the new set, if he would act like we will do another take to allow me the time to get up to the second level of the building where the hall in the building would allow me to get to the back of the building to exit the far end. He agreed to play along. Ron and the NBC crew were still outside pacing up and down the street waiting for me to come out. I asked the guy calling the shots to send a car around the backend of the building to pick me up. The set people were stalling, I go up to the second floor, race down the very long hallway to back end of the building, get down to street level see the car waiting for me, hop in the back and lay down on the floor. The driver is privy to who I am avoiding and as we round the corner, I ask him if he sees Ron and to describe what he sees.” The driver says, “I see that man and he is running back and forth going nuts. He’s looking for you!” Redford continues, “I know that Ron figures something was up because the delay for my arrival was too long. Well, I get to my trailer but Ron is not far behind. I’m in my trailer but when the time comes for my next scene, I wonder how I am going to get back to the New York Times building and avoid Ron who is now stationed right outside my trailer door screaming that I’m trapped (which was true!). There were lots of people coming in and out of my trailer as well as those trailers near mine. It just so happened that our make-up person was in my trailer, as was my stand-in. Generally, we had my stand-in all ready to go out looking like me in a quick manner. I asked one of the security guys to let me have his outer clothes for a disguise. He agreed! I put on his heavy jacket and had the make-up artist fix me up with an afro wig, a mustache, glasses and I took the security walkie-talkie. In my disguise, I exited the trailer and got out by the car before my stand-in came out and no one knew it was me. The stand-in exited and quickly entered the car to return to the set and all thought I was in the car. Oh! It was a glorious exit! The paparazzi camera shutters were going click, click, click! As the car is driving away, Ron jumps onto the trunk of the car taking photos through the windshield. I am calmly watching Ron snapping shots of my stand-in and thinking how fantastic the observation is. Ron was on the trunk of the car still rounding the corner and the NBC people and I are leisurely walking up the street to the set. I am still in character disguise. We get close enough to see everything going on and watch when the car stops. The stand-in gets out and Ron knows that he has been had. As I am passing him on the street, Ron is cursing up a storm and goes away grumbling along.”

Listening to Redford share his tale was like being mesmerized by a master in the art of storytelling. This delightfully rare encounter is one to remember.