On Monday, Oct. 27, Amy Redford was juggling her 2-month-old baby, Eden, chatting with a reporter and readying herself for a photograph when she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t really had time that day to look at herself in the mirror. She shrugged apologetically in the universally accepted new-mother-what-can-you-do way, and grinned at her daughter. The youngest child of Robert Redford and Lola Van Wagenen, the 38-year-old Ms. Redford looked great anyway; she inherited a thick, sandy mane of hair and those startling cerulean eyes from her father, which translate to a visage that clearly does not require any primping or fuss. Her directorial debut, The Guitar, opens in New York on Nov. 7, and like any other first-time director, she was nervous about whether anyone would show up to see it. “I’m just trying to get butts in the seats next week,” she said. Two friends, Hunter Hill and David Wain, have movies opening the same weekend (Lake City and Role Models), and she joked that she and Mr. Wain had even gone as far as discussing a two-for-one deal for moviegoers.
The Guitar, written by Amos Poe, stars Saffron Burrows as Melody Wilder, a meek and mousy sort of woman who in a single day loses her job, is dumped by her boyfriend and is told she has terminal cancer with only a few weeks to live. The movie asks the question: How does one spend the last days of her life? But this is (thankfully) no Bucket List dressed in chick-flick clothing. In Melody’s case, she walks out of her dingy apartment and rents a stunning loft in the West Village overlooking the Hudson, and goes on an impressive online shopping spree, racking up debt on credit cards she knows she won’t be around to pay. And! She starts to have a lot of sex—with lovers who come in the form of deliverymen and women who show up at the door. There’s a romantic relationship, too—with the 1963 red Fender Stratocaster guitar Melody has lusted after since childhood (and selected with help from Ms. Redford’s brother, James). There are a few more twists and turns in this almost-a-fairy-tale film, but in short, Melody completely changes her life, and then her life completely changes.
Ms. Redford, a born-and-bred New Yorker, has acted in theater, film and TV (including the obligatory-for-all-who-live-here spots on Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Law & Order) and had considered the role of Melody for herself when she came across Mr. Poe’s script, based loosely on a friend’s experience. “But I kept firing myself,” she laughed. “I realized that I wanted to tell this story and I didn’t want to be in the story. When I read the script, a lot of images were just flying at me and I was directing it in my head, so I knew it was the right script for me to do at this point in my career.”
MS. REDFORD FIRST dabbled in directing while in high school, when she attended Dalton on the Upper East Side near the Fifth Avenue apartment where her family lived. Though she is clearly wary of exploiting her father’s fame in any way, she conceded that “to grow up in that world … it’s a pretty exciting universe.” She added: “It’s like being a circus freak. The kinds of people you get to meet, a lot of them are imaginative and childlike—it’s an addictive place to be. It’s magical.” Her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and while all three Redford kids have drifted toward the arts (brother James is a screenwriter and Shauna is a painter), she was the only one to directly follow her father (or as she says, been “hijacked”) into acting.
“In a lot of ways, it was the last thing I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s a tough profession, and to be carrying the last name around is a heavy load.” The famous surname was both a help and a hindrance, she said. “But I’ve always been kind of stubborn about doing my own thing. The stories that I want to tell are my own.”
Ms. Redford added, “I have great respect for the way [my father] approaches filmmaking and what he has done with his advantages and his success is something I admire. But like anybody else, with any parent, you need to get up and go your own way and you learn your own lesson. Especially when it comes to the arts. You can’t do it by thinking about it or being too fearful. … You have to go in and throw yourself on the wall and see what sticks.”
The Guitar was produced on a small budget, and the entire shoot was completed in 21 days (“We’re talking about as independent a movie as you can get!”), with Ms. Redford quickly having to learn to deal with the sticky financial aspects of filmmaking. “I don’t think filmmakers should excuse themselves from the fiscal realities of filmmaking. You need to understand the nature of the money and the budget to protect the creative. It’s important to understand what the money means.” She laughed. “I had to adopt the kind of language that I never wanted to learn. That was the most difficult part.”