Tom Hanks. Quincy Jones. Kristen Stewart. Warren Beatty. Quentin Tarantino. George Lucas. Steven Spielberg. Kirk Douglas. Amy Adams. Richard Gere.
These and other famous folks came to the film academy’s Governors Awards Saturday to honor filmmakers whose names may not be as well known, but whose contributions to the industry have affected movie-lovers everywhere.
Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker helped make the medium mainstream with his direct-cinema approach. George Stevens, Jr., founded the American Film Institute and established the Kennedy Center Honors. Hal Needham developed new ways of performing and directing death-defying movie stunts. DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charity.
Octogenarians Pennebaker, Stevens and Needham received honorary Oscars for their distinguished careers and Katzenberg was recognized with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards ceremony, held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland Center.
The film academy has long awarded honorary Oscars, but established a new tradition four years ago of presenting those statuettes at a private dinner party where there are no time limits on speeches. Portions of the untelevised event may be included in the Feb. 24 Academy Awards telecast.
Stars mingled in the ballroom and dined on filet mignon and banana cream pie before academy president Hawk Koch urged them to “finish the deals, make the deals” so the program could begin.
Each honoree was introduced by a pair of stars and a short film of their work.
Michael Moore and Sen. Al Franken introduced Pennebaker. Moore called him an inspiration and the inventor of the modern documentary. Pennebaker ditched the tripod and carried his camera on his shoulder, and “all filmmaking changed,” Moore said, “nonfiction and fiction.”
The 87-year-old Pennebaker seemed to thank every colleague from his six-decade career during a nearly 20-minute speech that prompted his family to signal him to finish and inspired a joke from Will Smith later in the evening.
“Before I get started, D.A. Pennebaker has a couple more people he wanted to thank,” Smith cracked.
Sidney Poitier and Annette Bening introduced Stevens, speaking of his commitment to honoring, preserving and furthering the art of film. In accepting his Oscar, Stevens thanked his late father for encouraging him toconsider film a timeless art and “for opening the door for me to a creative life.”
Needham “pushed the boundaries of what could be done in action,” Tarantino said as he introduced the stuntman and director, adding, “I’ve ripped off many shots from you.”
Al Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather,” described Needham as “one of the good guys” and “a gift to any producer.” Ruddy told a story about making 1982’s “Megaforce,” which Needham directed. The stuntman helped design a rocket for the film’s action sequences, and when brought it to the Goldwyn lot to demonstrate it, he accidentally launched it into a new soundstage and burnt the whole thing down. Later, while filming another stunt, Needham crashed a motorcycle and got a concussion, but he was back on set shooting the next morning.
The 81-year-old Needham called himself “the luckiest man alive”: He grew up a sharecropper’s son with eight years’ education and went on to work with Billy Wilder, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. Now he’s getting an Academy Award.
“My mom’s looking down on tonight with a big smile on her face,” he said, choking up and dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.
He closed by thanking “the entire Hollywood community for allowing me to be a part of it.”
Tom Hanks and Will Smith introduced Katzenberg by joking about his persistent calls for charitable donations. The DreamWorks executive has raised more than $230 million as chairman of the Motion Picture and Television Fund foundation.
“Jeffrey has no problem asking for way too much money,” Smith said.
“Mostly, all I did was pick up the phone and ask you,” Katzenberg said as he accepted his award. “It’s you who did it. You who gave of your time, your talent, your money, your hearts. Because that’s what you do. That is what Hollywood does.”