Hollywood director Sydney Pollack’s environmental legacy remembered
Sydney Pollack, the actor, director and producer, has been hailed as a legendary figure, the ‘last of his kind,’ as the Los Angeles Times put it. What is less known is his contribution to the environment. I met Sydney some 20 years ago. I was setting up the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a major American environmental group. At that time none of the national environmental groups had an office in Los Angeles, despite all its problems. That changed with Sydney’s help. I met Sydney through my old friend Jonathan Kaufelt. Jonathan was Sydney’s lawyer as well as the lawyer for Robert Redford, with whom Sydney often made pictures. I sat with Sydney in his office at the studio. He listened with warmth as I made my pitch—LA needed a world-class environmental legal team to fight for clean air, clean water, and social justice. “I’ll support you,” he said, “this will be good for my community!” He promised to give us the premiere of Havana, the next Redford picture he was making, as a benefit for the office. In this way he raised considerable money for our start up operation. He also introduced us around, and the office began to work with other leading people in the Hollywood community, which has continued into a new generation including Leonardo diCaprio. Sydney was quick to become a friend right at the beginning—when we really needed a friend. That Los Angeles office has gone on to do great things—saving the California grey whales not least among them. Part of Sydney’s legacy is all the good work for the planet, its creatures and people that he helped us to build. And that is a great legacy.
James Thornton, May 2008.