Interview: James Redford

Interview: James Redford

Award-winning documentary filmmaker James Redford boasts an interesting and varied career. Drawing heavily on personal experiences, his work explores deep issues such as dyslexia and organ donation.

Redford's latest documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope, examines the medical link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and future physical and mental health problems. We caught up with James to discuss the effects of ACE, the challenges in making the documentary and his upcoming projects.

Q. The film details a very important medical breakthrough, why were you inspired to cover the ACE study?

Well, this film is a partnership with an American philanthropist by the name of Karen Pritzker. We did a film about dyslexia four years ago and found it was really rewarding to make a helpful tool to help families, parents and educators. We wanted to do that again. Karen has been involved in children’s wellness issues for a long time as an advocate and supporter. She was aware of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study which was a good twenty years ago now. She sent it to me and said that it is insane that there’s not more conversation about this. When I read it, it just blew my mind. I immediately thought this was just a must-do project. You know, four years ago there was very little awareness around this but now that’s changing in America and I hope it will happen elsewhere too.

Q. One of the most striking statistics in the film is that someone with an ACE score of 6 or more has 20 years lower life expectancy than someone with an ACE score of 0. What do you think are the most important changes that need to be made in society to overcome the problems caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences?

You know, first and foremost,  you have to have a shift in mind-set. When dealing with small children, it is about understanding that emotionally difficult environments are like a neurotoxin l mercury and lead if you look at it like that then we would be that much more committed to protecting children from the effects of stress. Maybe you can’t change their neighbourhoods or their families or their worlds but you can reduce the exposure, you can reduce the risks by giving them support. Then I think in terms of teenagers, kids who’ve already been affected in their brains and are having trouble because of all of this, it’s important to understand that you’re dealing with kids who’ve been physically and mentally hurt and impaired. They really deserve a little bit more compassion and curiosity from us, not just flat out judgment.

Q. In the film you speak to a woman named Cynthia who is struggling with anxiety and family problems, why were you particularly drawn to her story?

Cynthia, for me, was an example of how important it is to help families – not just the kids, not just the parents but families and that helping her be a better mother and understanding her own health history. Just de-stressing her self and her environment so she can be more attentive to people in her life. That was an example of the program - understanding that when you help her, it’s not about her being a bad parent. All parents want the best for their children, it’s about 'Does life make it difficult for you to be the parent you wanna be?' So for Cynthia, having that support was really important to making her more comfortable as a mom.

Q. Do you have any more projects in the pipeline that we should look forward to?

Yes, my next film is called Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution and that is an HBO film that will air later in the year. If you’re interested in that, go to www.redfordcenter.org. That’s my other company that does environmental documentaries.  

Revolution: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope has its UK premiere today in the Prince Charles Theatre, London. Watch the trailer below:

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