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SALT LAKE CITY – You can't judge a book by its cover.
At least that's what Robert Redford learned about 15 years ago when he first read "A Walk in the Woods."
"I wasn’t going to read it because on the cover it was just a bear in the woods, and I thought it was just another one of those environmental books that people send me … for endorsement. And then I thought, 'Well, I’ll take it,'" Redford said before the premiere of the film adaptation, Friday. "And then I laughed out loud. I’d never done that."
Adapted from the best-selling travel book by Bill Bryson, "A Walk in the Woods" premiered Friday night at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Salt Lake City Gala. It seemed a fitting tribute to the festival that defines itself by exploration, diversity and creativity.
"When I learned that Robert Redford was the person who was … buying interest in the film, I was thrilled because he only makes intelligent movies," Bryson said Friday night. "I mean, name a bad Robert Redford movie. There isn’t one."
"A Walk in the Woods" follows Bryson (played by Redford) who at 44 decided to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail with an old highschool friend, Stephen Katz (played by Nick Nolte.) Nick Offerman, Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen also appear in the film.
Bryson embarked on the journey after returning to the U.S. from England after 20 years abroad and realizing the trail ran through New Hampshire, where he lived.
The comedy finds the two battling elements, animals, poisonous plants, tics, each other and those they run into in the woods.
Bryson's original idea," he said, "was that … we would have this summer walk on the Appalachian Trail, and then I’d write a book about it. And so to have this happen is of course really exciting."
After years of trying to bring "A Walk in the Woods" to the big screen, it finally came to fruition. Preproduction for the film began in March 2014, according to the “A Walk in the Woods” movie Facebook page, with filming shortly afterward.
Filming "A Walk in the Woods" helped Redford gain an appreciation for those who take the journey on the trail, he said.
"(It's) really tough," Redford said. "I have all the admiration for people that hike the Appalachian Trail."
Director Ken Kwapis said the film shows the physically and emotionally "epic journey" of the trail and features themes of reconnecting, lost time and the rarely told story of male friendship.
Kwapis also said that he and members of the cast and crew were changed by their involvement with "A Walk in the Woods."
"I think there was something about being in those woods and being in nature and shooting a film, in large part having an unmediated experience in nature," he said. "It kind of does a wonderful number on you. It sort of changes you in some subtle way."
The gala premiere was Bryson's first time seeing the movie. Offerman, who had previously seen the movie, gave it a positive review.
"It’s a beautiful film. I saw it this morning, and it made me cry a lot," Offerman said. "I have a tiny part, and I’m really proud to have a tiny part in this movie."
Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife, Jeanette, also attended the gala Friday night. Herbert said it was "wonderful" to have Redford in town for the premiere and called it a "great opportunity."
Similar to the theme of expansion and exploration seen in the film, this year’s festival marks the first year of expanding film offerings in Salt Lake City, essentially making it a second home base for the festival.
The art performance “The Way of the Rain” on Monday and Tuesday will further promote the explorative theme that has come to define the festival.
Redford’s wife, Sibylle Szaggars-Redford, is the creative director of the event that will feature dance, music, film, as well as spoken word by Robert Redford.
Redford will also participate in the "Power of Story: Visions of Independence" panel Jan. 29 with filmmaker George Lucas as the kickoff to the Art of Film Weekend.
For more information on the Sundance Film Festival or "A Walk in the Woods," visit sundance.org.
Contributing: Ashley Kewish