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Gov. Herbert: Utah is a better place with Robert Redford in it

SALT LAKE CITY — Actor, director, entrepreneur, philanthropist and Utahn Robert Redford was honored Saturday by Gov. Gary Herbert at a special tribute event.

More than 1,000 people attended the sold-out, black tie event at the Grand America Hotel, where the Academy Award winner and founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Ski Resort and Sundance Catalog was praised for his contributions to the state.

"I’ve been trying to do it for about three years," Herbert said. "(Redford) likes his privacy so he’s been a little reluctant to let us honor him, but I’ve been working hard and I think I wore him down."

Saying he "knows a talented guy when (he) sees one," Herbert praised Redford's determination, perseverance, passion and talent. The governor complimented the veteran actor on his long and celebrated film career and expressed thanks for his contributions to the economic development of Utah through efforts such as the Sundance Film Festival, which brings roughly $75 million to the state each year.

"I think we take him for granted," Herbert said. "He’s been here for so long, and he’s been so successful. It’s really quite remarkable, and yet he calls Utah home. I’m appreciateive of that. I think Utah is a better place because Robert Redford does call Utah home."

Redford, 77, said he was introduced to Utah early in his career when he would drive through the state on his way home to Los Angeles from Colorado. He said he admired Utah's geography and physical beauty and decided to raise his children in the mountains in the hope that it would help shape who they became in life.

Redford said the tribute event was something he never imagined would happen and that he felt "lifted and shrunk at the same time" by the honor.

"What really touches me most about tonight is that whatever differences may exist, that we could all come together and collaborate on something we all agree on, which is our love of this state and the country and the people," he said.

Redford's son James Redford also spoke of growing up in Utah and how every time he speaks to his father on the phone he mentions the mountains coming alive with color or other references to the state's beauty.

"The love he has for Utah, I have to say, it's visceral, it's primal and deeply personal," James Redford said.

Robert Redford has more than 60 acting credits in a film and television career that spans five decades. He is known for his roles in films such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Horse Whisperer" and "All The President's Men," as well as directing films such as 1980's "Ordinary People," for which he received the Academy Award for Best Director.

He also stars in "All Is Lost," which is currently in theaters and is generating awards buzz for the actor, and will appear in superhero sequel "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" next year.

Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore said Redford's contributions to independent film have changed the landscape for how movies are acquired and distributed.

Before the Sundance Film Festival, independent films were "few and far between," Moore said, but today major studios regularly visit the 10-day event in Park City in the hopes of finding the next big hit.

He also said the festival has brought a lot of attention to the state, providing a showcase in Utah for future filmmaking opportunities.

"The festival does wondrous things for the state," Moore said. "It’s elevated our exposure. It has created awareness for our state that didn’t exist before the festival was here and brings millions of dollars into the state each year as well."

Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival in 1982, and it has since grown into one of the nation's largest and premier film festivals.

The festival has also been the target of criticism, including earlier this year when the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute called for Utah to sever its ties with Sundance due to the adult content of films that screen there.

During a news conference on the opening day of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Redford responded to the Sutherland Institute's statement by saying it is up to individuals to decide what films they do and do not see.

"Sometimes the narrowest mind barks the loudest, and we've, over time, just come to ignore it," Redford said at the time.

On Saturday, Herbert echoed that sentiment, saying that while he does have concerns about the content of today's entertainment options, it is up to him to select which films to view and take his children and grandchildren to see.

"That’s what we need to do as parents," he said. "We need to, in fact, make sure that we make correct and good choices."

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