By Sandra Kraisirideja
Roger Ebert today accepted an award for Career Achievement in Film Journalism from ShoWest at a luncheon to celebrate the importance of independent and specialty film.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and actress Patricia Clarkson were also honored for their work in independent film.
Before introducing Ebert, a short video was shown that was made earlier this year for the Director’s Guild of America, which honored Ebert in February with an honorary lifetime membership to the DGA.
Stephen Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and “Monster” director Patty Jenkins shared what Ebert has meant to them during their career and participated in some mild ribbing at the critics’ expense. Ebert is the first critic to be awarded an honorary membership with the DGA.
Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, introduced Ebert, calling him an “American icon.” As Ebert approached the stage he was greeted warmly by a standing ovation from the crowd of studio representatives and exhibitors.
Viewing the archival footage of Ebert in the DGA video only highlighted the drastic changes in his current appearance. He is thinner and the surgeries to his throat and jawbone require that he wear a tight-fitting neck brace, which also holds his mouth open in a strange clown-like grin.
Ebert, who was the first to review and champion the films of Martin Scorsese and Mike Leigh, accepted the award along with this wife, Charlie “Chaz” Hammel-Smith. Having lost the use of his voice after beating thyroid cancer, Ebert greeted the crowd using an electronic voice he calls “Lawrence.”
His acceptance speech, however, was read by Hammel-Smith. Ebert encouraged filmmakers and exhibitors to continue supporting independent film. He reminded the attentive crowd that movies are not just or kids and teens and they should support the development and distribution of movies for an older audience. “In times like these we all need to see a good movie,” Ebert said.
Clarkson, who stars in Woody Allen’s next movie “Whatever Works,” accepted the ShoWest Independent Award for Excellence in Acting following Ebert’s presentation. Wearing a pink satin blouse and black pencil skirt, Clarkson said any day where she gets to stand on the same stage as Ebert and fellow Bigelow was “a good day.” Clarkson made a strong case for the importance of independent and specialty films by asking exhibitors “on bended knee” to make at least one time slot or one auditorium available for independent films.
Bigelow’s next feature, “The Hurt Locker” screened at ShoWest on Monday.” The Hurt Locker” tells the story of an elite Army bomb squad with a new leader who takes extreme chances in the line of duty. Tom Bernard, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics introduced Bigelow and described the movie as her “personal masterpiece and a masterpiece of the genre.” He then introduced the world premiere of the trailer, which focused heavily on action sequences and ended with the main character pulling up a huge nest of bombs that completely surround him.
Describing the world of independent filmmaking as a “slippery slope,” Bigelow accepted the ShoWest Triumph Award for Outstanding Direction and said just “breathing the same air” as Ebert and Clarkson made it a great day for her.