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LOS ANGELES, Oct 31, (RTRS): The American Cinematheque honored Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and DreamWorks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg at the organization’s annual fundraising gala Friday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.
Witherspoon received the American Cinematheque Award, reserved for an extraordinary artist currently making a significant contribution to the art of the Moving Picture. Specifically not a lifetime achievement prize, it is meant for mid-career recognition. Recent honorees have included Matthew McConaughey, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon and Samuel L. Jackson.
“This whole experience is just overwhelming and unbelievable because I’m really just a girl from Nashville who had a dream”, Witherspoon said. “I grew up on backlots and on locations. I had my entire childhood on film. I went through puberty on film, which is something I don’t feel totally great about, but I don’t regret it at all. It’s preserved forever”.
She also spoke about her passion at this stage in her career for producing films that are equally representative of the sexes. “Women make up 50 percent of the population and we should be playing 50 percent of the roles on the screen”, she said. “We need more female surgeons, supreme court justices and soldiers — but on screen. Not just as the girlfriends to famous men”.
In addition to her award-winning work in front of the camera, she has taken bold strides spearheading projects like her own starring vehicle “Wild” and David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” last year, as well as the comedy “Hot Pursuit” with Sofia Vergara and the upcoming television series “Big Little Lies” with Nicole Kidman.
That sense of forthright feminism was a hallmark of comments made by friends and colleagues throughout the evening. McConaughey, who returned the favor after Witherspoon presented the same honor to him last year, noted her “powerful femininity” and recalled, “I remember thinking when I first met her, ‘This woman is nobody’s fool and if she wants something she makes a straight line to it’”.
Jennifer Aniston marveled at the naturalism of Witherspoon’s on-screen kisses; director Alexander Payne bristled at the notion that he put the actress on the map with 1999’s “Election” and recounted how Barack Obama called the film his favorite movie about politics; Kate Hudson — who called Witherspoon “a true, modern-day feminist” — remembered witnessing the actress work the premiere after-party of 1991’s “The Man in the Moon” at 15 years old “like a seasoned politician”, and consistently being up for the same parts later in their careers; and Jennifer Garner spoke about a shared passion for NGO Save the Children.
Other presenters included Vergara, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, T Bone Burnett, producing partner Bruna Papandrea and director Jean-Marc Vallee. Chris Pine and Robert Downey Jr. sent pre-recorded well-wishes, while country music star Kenny Chesney performed a rendition of “Wild Child”.
Witherspoon is the first woman to win the American Cinematheque Award since Julia Roberts in 2007, and only the fifth to receive it in the gala’s 29-year history.
This year’s Britannia Awards show gets a new face thanks to the production efforts of Done and Dusted, host Jack Whitehall and a new outlet, Pop TV. But there are also a couple of fresh faces at the top of BAFTA/LA, the org that’s behind the awards: incoming CEO Chantal Rickards and Kieran Breen, chairman of the board of directors.
“One of the great things that the Britannias have always been able to bring is top-level talent”, Breen says. “This year you can tell from the honorees (Orlando Bloom, Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford, Sam Mendes, James Corden and Amy Schumer) that once again we’ve a stellar lineup. But this year we’re also going to bring a more polished, progressive, sort of cool Britannia thing that (Done and Dusted) do so well”.
Throughout the year, BAFTA/LA hosts a series of programs to help find the next generation of filmmakers. “It starts with grassroots work like screenings in parks with families, work with film schools to find young talent”, chief operating officer Matthew Wiseman says. These include scholarships, mentorships, student film competitions and professional programs like master classes.
For the past four years, BAFTA/LA has been at Washington Prep High School in the Westmont area of Los Angeles. “It’s in a tough part of town”, Rickards says. “We put in a lot of manhours, going down there to help with their education programming. We also open those children’s eyes to the opportunities of all the other jobs in the industry that they can get”.
The Britannias are more than a way to honor people in showbiz, they also help BAFTA/LA fundraise for its various efforts from industry screenings to inner-city philanthropy and student mentoring and competitions.
“I think it’s important that we try and pay it back in some small way to the community here that has welcomed us”, Breen says. “And it also helps this British organization be relevant in this town”.
BAFTA/LA’s Kieran Breen, Chantal Rickards and Matthew Wiseman offer insights on the 2015 Britannia honorees.
Orlando Bloom: Britannia Humanitarian Award presented by the Beazley Group” Orlando Bloom is a Unicef ambassador, and does brilliant brilliant work, especially in things like disaster relief”, says BAFTA/LA CEO Chantal Rickards. “He is very passionate about his humanitarian work. He works extensively with Unicef, often makes lots of short films for Unicef to help it promote better and wider”.
The org’s COO Matthew Wiseman adds, “He travels with the Unicef team for several weeks at a time. As BAFTA is a charity ourselves, it’s something that we thought very strongly about, a person using their profile or moving image to push for change, which is very meaningful to us as well”.
“And he happens to be British”, sums up BAFTA/LA chairman of the board Kieran Breen.
Meryl Streep: Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film Streep is not British, but “it is about celebrating excellence, wherever it comes from”, Breen says. “There is no question that she merits the worldwide award this year”.
“Plus she’s played two iconic Brits: Emmeline Pankhurst (and) Margaret Thatcher”, adds Wiseman.
Harrison Ford: Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment” For somebody who has such a huge body of work behind them, certainly this could have applied to Meryl as well”, Breen says, noting that Harrison Ford’s contribution to global entertainment includes two big-screen icons: Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise — a role that he is bringing back in the latest installment this December — and Indiana Jones.
Wiseman points out that Ford spend time playing both of those characters on British soundstages.
James Corden: Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year presented by Burberry” James Corden exemplifies the tradition of British talent coming to LA and making it their home and making it big here, which starts all the way back with Charlie Chaplin and (Alfred) Hitchcock”, Breen says.
Rickards adds, “He’s also such a brilliant writer. CBS originally started talking with him about a sitcom because (CBS topper) Les Moonves saw him in (stage play) ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, arranged to meet him and said let’s talk about a sitcom. In fact, it was James who said, ‘What about a chat show?’ And so a relationship developed from there. Within weeks they had created ‘The Late Late Show’ with James.
He’s also close friends with Jack Whitehall because they worked together on another BAFTA-award winning TV show ‘A League of Their Own.’ So I’m expecting a few fireworks two weeks from Friday”.