By Jason Abdow
On Saturday, Jun 19th, the awards for Filmmaker On The Edge and Excellence in Acting were presented at the Provincetown International Film Festival. The festival is held every June in Provincetown, Massachusetts and gives these awards to people in the film industry that they believe push the boundaries in their fields. Previous recipients of the Filmmaker On The Edge award have been Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, Gus Van Sant, and Kevin Smith to name a few. While more recent, the Excellence in Acting award has also awarded big names in Hollywood such as Alan Cumming, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, and Tilda Swinton. This year the honorees were Academy Award winning director Ang Lee and actress Cynthia Nixon.
Before awarding each of the honorees, there was a small conversation, followed by a Q&A. Cynthia Nixon went up first, and was presented the award by B. Ruby Rich, a film scholar, critic, and professor at UC Santa Cruz. The conversation between the two was done in a respectful way, it was clear that Rich was a fan of Nixon, and mostly revolved around how Nixon got to this point in her career, which is rich with work both on screen and on stage. She began acting, with hopes of just being a child star to make money for college, but said the roles just kept coming after college so she just kept accepting them. She said the main reason she got hired was she was weird and offered something new for directors. She had an ordinary look but her personality was very ‘New York.’
Her love for New York came through quite often over the course of the discussion. She stated that being able to stay in New York City was a main reason why she would either accept or reject a role. This love also brought her to audition for the role of Carrie Bradshaw on HBO‘s “Sex and the City.“ She said that outside of a few shows, no pilots were being filmed in New York. When she saw there one, which would focus on various women and would be filmed there, she jumped on the chance to audition. While producers did not want her for the role of Carrie, she was persistent until they gave her the role of Miranda.
Aside from her professional work, Nixon’s contributions to social and political campaigns was discussed as well. She has become a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Quality Education, focusing on the betterment of public schooling, as well as an advocate for the LGBTQ community. This was a major theme for the audience questions as one person asked how she went from playing Miranda on “Sex and the City” to becoming a major icon of the LGBT community. She simply responded that her wife is what inspires her to get out and do what she does.
The question that seemed to have resonated the most with the audience was one about how Nixon uses her star power to raise awareness for different causes. She said, which many saw as shocking, that she did not see a correlation between her work and her political/social opinions. She did note that she refused a role in a film she believed to have had a poor message about public education, but besides that she did not usually use her beliefs as a basis for choosing roles. She brought up her role in the upcoming TV Movie “Killing Reagan”, where she plays Nancy Reagan, someone she stated she disagreed with on most issues. But she still took on the role saying “I like to keep my politics and my art kinda separate.”
She was then presented her award and spoke on how much she loved the diverse nature Provincetown, saying it was glad to end a difficult week in such an open place, alluding to the shooting in Orlando. She also brought up a personal story on how Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” inspired a couple she knows to view the gay community in a much more loving and compassionate way.
Next up, director John Waters, who has directed cult classics like “Pink Flamingos”, came up to introduce Ang Lee. He jokingly referenced an article written about the event in the Boston Herald which states the two directors has as much in common as “absinthe and applesauce.”
Once Lee joined Waters on stage, the two instantly hit it off with a shared love of director Ingmar Bergman, who they both have drawn inspiration from. Lee stated that after growing up in a society that did not appreciate art, seeing Bergman “The Virgin Spring” was enlightening even though he did not understand it at first.
From there the conversation focused on Lee’s early experiences as a filmmaker living in America. He said he moved from China to America because the educational opportunities were better and it would be a great restart on life. Initially, he struggled to get a film made, and had to have his wife work to provide for the family. Lee then started writing and that is when he started getting projects off the ground.
Lee stated he was always proud of his films, even if nobody saw them, but it was the release of his film “Ride with the Devil” that disappointed him the most. He thought the film was great and felt like a foreigner in his new home when critics responded negatively to it. He also noted that he felt like he was ready to retire after making “Hulk.” Lee noted that what he noticed during the production of that film was that he was surrounded by artists that had gotten lost in the business of the film industry. Lee said the only thing stopping him from retiring was that he did not want his last movie to be so focused on anger. That is why he made “Brokeback Mountain,” a movie more focused on love.
The Q&A portion of the conversation began shortly after. The first question was if Lee had any advice for young filmmakers. “Don’t do it!” Lee joked, before giving the more serious answer that it is a tough industry to break into but if you know you won’t give up and will always be trying, nobody should try and stop you. When asked who made movies that moved him spiritually, Lee said he always tries to emulate what Stanley Kubrick did with his films. Lee was then asked how he was able to work so well with actors. He stated he likes to pay particularly close attention to faces so the audience can see themselves more clearly in them.
The evening ended with Lee’s acceptance speech which was short, a little all over the place, but clearly genuine. He was honored for the award, but never really saw himself as “on the edge.” Instead he just shares movies that are in his heart, and while is makes him uncomfortable, he enjoys it.