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Robert Redford puts star power behind Colorado River film

posted 26 Mar 2012, 05:33 by Mpelembe   [ updated 26 Mar 2012, 05:33 ]

Actor-director Robert Redford, a longtime environmental activist, is hoping his star power will spread the word about the Colorado River system, which conservationists believe is endangered by decades of development and global warming. Redford has teamed with his son Jamie on a new documentary film about the threat.

He's a movie star and Oscar-winning director, but Robert Redford, 76, is also a passionate environmentalist, unafraid to use his star power to promote causes he supports.
Redford, 76, who lives in Utah, traveled to Washington, D.C. along with Jamie Redford, a Northern California resident, to discuss the urgency of the subject of their new film, "Watershed," featured at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival. Both father and son have been vocal advocates for conservation, particularly in America's west.

"Watershed" is a documentary about the Colorado River. It was produced by Jamie Redford and narrated by his father and was made to draw attention to the enormous and, they say, unsustainable demands being placed apon the Colorado River system which provides America's west with most of its water.

The river flows from the Rocky Mountains 1,450 miles (2,333 km) to the Gulf of California although, as the Redfords' film points out, its water rarely makes it that far because of the multiple demands of agriculture, industry and communities upstream.

"The watershed issue is something that's happening all over the world, where the need for water is greater than the amount of water to provide for it. I think we're picking the Colorado River as an example of what's going on with watersheds all over the world and trying to focus on that and draw attention to it," said Robert Redford in an interview with Reuters.

The film opens with an explanation of the history of the Colorado River system's development, starting with the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which provided for the "equitable division and apportionment of the use of the waters of the Colorado River System" among seven states in the US and two in Mexico. 

"Watershed" says the compact, ninety years on, has transformed one of the world's wildest rivers to the point where it will soon be unable to provide sufficient water for the populations who depend on it.

"With population in the region expected to reach 50 million by 2050, temperatures rising and precipitation patterns becoming more erratic, demand will outpace supply unless we embrace a new water ethic" Redford says in the film.

A star of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "All the President's Men", "The Sting" and the Oscar-winning director of "Game Show" says "Watershed" is is a warning.

"There's a new water reality that people have to be aware of and I think looking at the Colorado River as an example is what this film's about, I think it's using art as a tool for social awareness, you know - making a film about an issue and then getting it out to as many people as possible increases awareness, maybe increased awareness will help solve our problem, he said.

The film illustrates the various demands on the Colorado River through the eyes of the people who live on it, from a fly-fishing instructor near the river's source in Colorado, to

famers and their children living downstream. Jamie Redford says that by enlisting real people in the project, the issue is more likely to resonate with an audience.

"It was pretty clear from our point of view that what we wanted to do was specifically focus on people and we wanted to take a positive look at what is a challenging situation so, in that regard, we found characters up and down the river from the headwaters all the way out to the Colorado delta in Mexico that are fighting to make a difference and are making a difference and setting an example of what you can do," he said.

As a California native and long-time resident of Utah, Jamie's father says he has watched the gradual depletion of the Colorado for fifty years. He says the issue is too important to ignore any longer.

"The problem is just the overuse of the water that hasn't been addressed for so long. You've got 30 million people dependent on that water source and a lot of that dependency is urban renewal, booming metropolitan cities. You've got drinking, you've got sanitation and you've got electrical generation. You pull that off the river. Plus the agricultural water rights that the farmers and ranchers have. You've got a depletion that has to be looked at otherwise the whole thing's going to dry up and we're going to be in deep kaka." he said

As an early supporter of Barack Obama, Redford says he disappointed by the administration and congress's progress on the issue of future fuel sources. He says non-sustainable, carbon-based fuels are a major contributing factor to global warming and the problems facing those who depend on the Colorado River. Yet noone in government, he says, is courageous enough to make the decisions necessary to prevent the situation from worsening.

"The future is about young people," he said. "I think young people coming on today, like Jamie my son, his son, other generations coming. What are we thinking about them? I think we have such a tendency to think short, short term and therefore apply short term solution to longer term problems. We're just not going to get there unless that changes."