[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Robert Redford, legendary actor, director, producer and founder of the renowned Sundance Film Festival, made his first appearance at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival to receive a well-deserved award on Friday night at the Arlington Theatre.

“To honor Robert Redford with the American Riviera Award is an immense privilege for SBIFF,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said. “His 50-year career — filled with significant achievements both on and off camera — is reason enough for celebration.”

The tribute presentation sponsored by Sunstone Winery began with a montage of film clips that showcased five decades of work bringing laughs, breathless moments, tears and cheers from the sold-out audience.

Redford’s latest role as an unnamed man in the 2013 movie All Is Lost received numerous nominations in a challenging film that pitted one man against the sea as the only cast member, bringing the actor back to his roots of improvisation and instinct. He said he was drawn to the script because it was filled with drawings and the fact that the writer and director, J.C. Chandor, wrote the script with Redford in mind.

“All the technology and all the special effects has changed filmmaking — it’s all great — but it’s taken it further and further away from the pure cinematic experience like silent films were. And this had a lot of elements for that. It has no voiceover, no dialogue, no special effects — it was like pure and that appealed to me,” Redford said. “As an actor, it was a challenge that I guess I was really looking for to be able to go back to my roots and do what I love doing.”

Redford began his career in television and on stage, moving into films with his breakthrough Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a role in which he said he “could identity with the character” and “felt comfortable thinking outside the box.” The movie also starred Paul Newman, who he again teamed up with in The Sting and led to a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Redford.

His leading ladies have included lauded work as a romantic lead with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.

The impressive list of 68 film credits for Redford also includes work with co-stars such as Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men and another politically based film, The Candidate.

Robert Redford

Actor Robert Redford, left, talks with film critic Leonard Maltin after accepting the American Riviera Award. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

Redford explained that the basis of The Candidate evolved from the idea of winning being the subject of politics as a sport.

“The character was totally unqualified but was cosmetically appealing maybe — a matter of substance being put behind cosmetics,” Redford said. “How a person looked was more important than what they stood for and that was what the film was trying to say … . I liked that idea of leaving things as a question because I felt that America had a lot of questions that were not necessarily answered.”

His acting talents also transferred seamlessly behind the camera with his directorial debut, Ordinary People, winning him an Oscar for Best Director in 1981. The 77-year-old Redford has directed nine other films and produced 36 films, including The Horse Whisperer.

During the presentation, moderator and film critic Leonard Maltin asked Redford about his inspiration for taking on a “solitary role” as the only cast member in All Is Lost. The actor replied that he had always been a curious person and that growing up he had always wanted to be an artist, which led him to sketch out his scenes when he began directing, starting with Ordinary People in 1980 and continuing today.

All of these ingredients translated into his vision of building the Sundance Institute in Utah to support visionary independent filmmakers, and the annual Sundance Film Festival has become the world’s most influential showcase for cutting-edge films.

The American Riviera Award was created to recognize an actor who has had a strong influence on American cinema, and Redford’s notable accomplishments certainly fit the bill.

Upon receiving the award from an emotional Durling, who was personally selected by the honoree, Redford spoke about what drew him to the festival and the feeling of community that Santa Barbara offers to him.

“It’s a little bit like coming home in the sense that, yes, Sundance is in Utah and so forth, but I’m a California kid — I grew up not far from here,” Redford said. “I spent a lot of my time in Santa Barbara surfing and spending time in these mountains, so it’s a little bit like coming home.”

The ever popular and growing Santa Barbara International Film Festival attracts more than 75,000 people to town, spanning 11 days with more than 200 films, symposiums and panels for producers, women, directors and writers.

The Tribute Awards conclude Saturday night with Bruce Dern set to receive the Modern Master Award, and the films conclude Sunday with a special presentation of Richard Linklater’s Before series starting at the Lobero Theatre and closing the festival with Before Midnight at the Arlington.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.