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One on One with...Robert Redford

Robert Redford and William Brody

Robert Redford and William Brody

When actor, director and producer Robert Redford traveled to La Jolla to share his film honoring the Salk Institute, part of the Cathedrals of Culture series headed by German director Wim Wenders, he sat down with Salk President William Brody to discuss how art can complement science, and how that seeming incompatibility can lead to surprising discoveries.

How did you come to choose the Salk Institute as the subject of your film?

I think it began with my personal history. I grew up in L.A., surfed off Dana Point. I was around when the Institute was being built. And I have an abiding interest in architecture.

When Wim Wenders called and said, ‘I’m picking five people from different countries to each make a 30-minute film about a building that speaks to you,’ I immediately thought of the Salk because it tied back to my own history. You see, I had a mild case of polio when I was eleven. I was bedridden for two weeks and I was scared. When the polio vaccine was announced not long after that, it was a huge, huge deal. So choosing the Salk Institute as a building that spoke to me made sense.

What was the next step?

That was deciding how to portray the building. It’s very angular, very Euclidean. My ambition was to romanticize the angles, to use 3D and move the camera in a way that softens them.

At the same time, I delved into archival materials to study the relationship between Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn. They were such an interesting pair. I learned that they were very collaborative, sometimes argumentative, but always respectful. They gave to each other. That really underscores Salk’s belief that art and science go together. And so the core idea for the film became showing how a spiritual atmosphere is created around a building of science.

Did that play into choosing the soundtrack? I like it, but I was expecting something classical, Beethoven, perhaps. Why Moby?

Because of his abstract approach. There’s a spiritual component to his music, yet it’s very simple...minimalistic. That’s better than something highly orchestrated, I think. The music needed to fit the shape of the building.

It is a beautiful building that visitors come from all over the world to see and yet, they all take the same photo.

Well, it’s an iconic photo. You go from structure out across the ocean into space and infinity. You can’t get much better than a view into infinity. I remember standing on the beach when I was a kid and looking out across the ocean and thinking how it went all the way to Japan. There was absolutely nothing between me and Japan, and that was so cool.

Many people who come to view this iconic architecture don’ t know what goes on inside. I think your film personalizes the people inside the building. And that supports one of my objectives: to connect Salk to the broader community.

That’s a great objective and I’m happy to help in any way I can. You have no idea how important this project was for me.