In praise of Norman Jewison.
By Kay Kipling
When it came to the closing weekend of the Sarasota Film Festival, for me it was all about Norman Jewison.
First I spoke to the acclaimed director on the balcony of a Longboat Key Club suite, where he raved about the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico and said he planned to take out a boat before leaving town on Monday. The native Canadian, who’s been in the film and television business for more than 50 years, chatted about how he got Oscar-winning performances out of stars like Rod Steiger and Cher (“it’s all about trust,” he says, “a little bit like a marriage”), which of his films didn’t get the response he hoped (“I guess F.I.S.T. People didn’t want to know about the betrayal of the labor movement”) and his days in early, live TV (“anything could happen, and did. When I directed the Academy Awards much later, I told them it was because I wanted to experience terror once more before I died.”)
He also said the Sarasota event was a “wonderful festival because it celebrates independent films, and that’s where it’s at these days”—a sentiment he repeated on Saturday, when he was the guest of Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne for a Private Screenings taping at the Historic Asolo Theater. The Sarasota audience had the chance to be in on the show’s first-ever out-of-the-studio taping (the program will air sometime in September on TCM), and Jewison and Osborne both praised the jewel box setting and the appreciative crowd for playing along for reaction shots ranging from laughter to awe, as the pair chatted for nearly three hours about Jewison’s career and showed clips from such classics as In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof and The Hurricane.
But the Jewison weekend wasn’t over yet; as the Filmmakers’ Tribute Dinner honoree that evening, Jewison was introduced with praise from actor Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior on The Sopranos), who worked with him on And Justice For All. And the movie maker seemed genuinely touched both by the award and the standing ovation he received.
Other awards were presented Saturday night, too; actress Michelle Trachtenberg received the Breakthrough Performer Award for her work in festival film Beautiful Ohio, and her director, Chad Lowe, was given the Heineken Red Star Award honoring his debut as a film director, while independent movie exec Jonathan Sehring received the Producer’s Award. But just as with last year’s tribute to Robert Altman, it was the recognition of a director who’s given us all many movie memories that made the evening special.