Louis Lanzano, Associated Press
Robert Redford will appear at Park City premiere tonight.

Robert Redford says he has made plenty of sacrifices — including occasionally stalling his film career — to ensure that the Sundance Film Festival would survive and thrive. But, he adds, "it was all worth it."

The 68-year-old actor, filmmaker and environmental activist said his 45-year show-business career has suffered a bit here and there, but these days he has enough trust in the festival's leadership that he can relax his grasp on the event and begin to, in his words, "breathe again."

"We've been able to accomplish what we set out to do in the beginning, which is provide an outlet to help independent artists make their films and have their works be seen by a wide audience," he said by phone from the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon while in the midst of preparing for the opening of the Sundance Film Festival 06.

Redford said he will be at the Eccles Theatre in Park City tonight to introduce the opening-night premiere film ""Friends With Money,"" a comedy-drama starring Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack.

And he says he's excited about this year's festival, especially with its added emphasis on documentary features. "I'm happy that we've been able to support the documentary arts for years and that that form of filmmaking has become every bit as strong as the others."

He is also enthused about the festival's world cinema and short-film categories, which he says audiences "tend to neglect, though they're certainly missing out if they do."

Redford served in an advisory capacity to the Utah/U.S. Film Festival in the late 1970s and early '80s, and then his Sundance Institute took over and "decided to put it in a ski resort in the middle of winter, to make it as hard to get to as possible," he said with a laugh. "The experiment worked. We're here today because we took that risk and many others.

"Our willingness to take chances on films and filmmakers speaks for itself. Sundance has been good for independent filmmaking."

Redford acknowledged that Utah has also taken chances with its support of the festival. "I think there were a few lifted eyebrows at first, but we've established a relationship based on mutual trust and respect." He also voiced his pleasure about an agreement the Sundance Institute signed last year that will keep the festival in Utah for at least the next 12 years.

Last month, Redford was honored by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for his contributions to the film industry in a ceremony that put him in company with other honorees — and with President Bush.

The outspoken liberal activist says he was skeptical at first. "To be honest, I had a few reservations about going to Washington, D.C., as you can probably understand. But it's hard to turn down the chance to be onstage with people like Tony Bennett, Tina Turner, Suzanne Farrell and the magnificent Julie Harris."

He was also able to tour the White House with his family. "I got to sit in Thomas Jefferson's seat. That, alone, made it worthwhile."

Meanwhile, Redford has been been reviving his sometimes-dormant film career. He's already provided one of the voices (of Ike the Horse) for a live-action (with computer-graphic enhancements) version of "Charlotte's Web," and he's scheduled to play legendary baseball manager/executive Branch Rickey in a film about Jackie Robinson. He's also planning to direct and star in "Aloft," a drama about the plight of the North American peregrine falcon, which could reunite Redford with his pal Paul Newman (they co-starred in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting").

Asked about rumors that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck may be remaking "Butch Cassidy," Redford said he finds that "depressing."

"There is no shortage of good, original ideas, and there's just no point to remakes. Why do they have to mess with things that were perfect the first time around?" he said with a groan.

The 2006 Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 29 at various venues in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort. For ticket information, call 801-326-2000 or 435-940-8900 or go to www.sundance.org.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com