A Tribute to Jose Ferrer

October 20, 2003

DGA Latino Committee and guests gathered for "A Tribute to José Ferrer (1912-1992)" on October 20. The spirited and poignant evening honored the legendary actor/director with a reception, panel discussion, award presentation and screening of I Accuse! (1958).

Jesús Treviño, founding Co-chair of the Latino Committee, began by praising the Ferrer tribute and other committee events: "One of the ways we let the industry know who we are is by showcasing some of our best talent."

Co-chair Maria Jimenez-Henley noted the recent upswing in attendance at Latino Committee events. "Today, we have more input and more energy than we've ever had. There are more women. There's a lot going on, and we're really excited about it."

The program opened with a retrospective of Ferrer's greatest acting moments with clips from Cyrano de Bergerac, A Midnight Summer's Sex Comedy, Ship of Fools, Caine Mutiny, Moulin Rouge and Lawrence of Arabia.

Actress Liz Torres (American Family, Gilmore Girls), spoke passionately about Ferrer. "This man carried his culture with him and raised it to a new level." And called Ferrer "our hero, our leader, our icon."

Actor Esai Morales (NYPD Blue, American Family) and Guild members Luis Reyes and Ricardo Méndez Matta joined Torres in a panel discussion about Ferrer's influence on actors, directors and Latinos in the film community.

"I remember watching I Accuse! with my father," Matta told the audience. "He told me it was performed and directed by a Puerto Rican. At the time, nobody in Puerto Rico was in the movie business. I never knew one could do that. Now I live it. It really helped my confidence."

"Ferrer was one of the first actors to cross over to directing," said Reyes, author of the book, Hispanics in Hollywood. It was years before the leap from actor to director was commonplace in the industry. Added Morales: "José Ferrer is a spiritual father to every actor/director, Puerto Rican or not. His work transcends Puerto Rican stereotypes. You can't take your eyes off of it."

Throughout the course of his life, Ferrer directed seven films and 13 Broadway productions. He received the Best Actor Academy Award in 1950 for his portrayal of the title character in Cyrano de Bergerac. "The range of his career was incredible — until the very end. He sustained it in film, TV and on the stage," marveled Reyes.

Matta then introduced Dr. Luis Agraít, President of the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican Corporation for Public Broadcasting. "I cannot help but feel there is a certain poetic justice in my presence here," said Agraít, who was also present when Ferrer bestowed his Academy Award upon the University of Puerto Rico theater department. "There was a tremendous amount of pride instilled in our people that day. He shared it with all Puerto Ricans."

Agraít then presented an award from the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration to Ferrer's surviving children, Maria, Monsita, Gabriel, Rafael and daughter-in-law Debbie.

Lights then went down for the screening of I Accuse!, a film which recounts France's infamous Dreyfus Affair. Ferrer both directed this grand-scale MGM production and starred as Alfred Dryefus, the Jewish army officer who was unjustly accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. While other versions of the historical scandal focus on Emile Zola, the writer who publicized the story, Ferrer's rendition was the first to illuminate the viewpoint of Dreyfus, an innocent man who remained loyal to his army and to his country. and I feel like I have a shorthand with them, so I feel like it would really be nice to continue to find ways to work with them."

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