November 24, 1999
This annual gala in New York is designed to celebrate the achievements of filmmakers as well as leaders from politics, labor and business who have invigorated American film and television production, particularly in the Eastern region of the United States.
The star-studded inaugural event recognized filmmaker Martin Scorsese, New Line Cinema Chairman and CEO Robert Shaye, Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-MO), Teamsters' Local 817 President Thomas O'Donnell Sr., and the Austin (Texas) Film Society's Filmmaker Support Center for their exemplary contributions to the East Coast production community.
DGA President Jack Shea welcomed the participants to the ceremonies stating, "The DGA is excited to be establishing a new tradition here in New York." Shea then introduced DGA National Vice President Ed Sherin, executive producer of the East Coast filmed Law and Order series, commenting, "The success of tonight’s event is a tribute to the dynamic leadership that he has brought to our Guild as National Vice President. His remarkable vision has resulted in heightened service and programs for Guild members and the increased involvement of the Guild in building the Eastern film and television community."
"This is a great evening for those of us working in film and television," said Sherin. "As a director who has spent most of his life in New York, it is euphoric to watch the growth of production here. Cities and towns throughout the Eastern Region have responded with enthusiasm to our needs and New York’s City and State Film Commissions, as well as New York’s Guilds and Unions, have all cleared obstacles and built bridges of co-operation. The Directors Guild of America, which brought all of us here tonight, exists to nurture, protect and defend the economic future and the creative vision of its members and we will continue to do so. The DGA Honors, focused on the diversity of people that contribute to the success of the American entertainment industry, will now and in the years to come, honor the broad array of men and women in business, the arts and politics whose lives are models of personal vision, cultural contribution and the striving for excellence."
After thanking Shea, DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth, DGA Eastern Executive Director Christina Lomilino, and all the various committees, councils and volunteers who contributed to the organizing of the event, Sherin introduced comedian Judy Gold who warmed up the audience with her stand-up routine.
Gold then introduced the evening’s master of ceremonies, Gotham City acting icon Harvey Keitel. "Not since Mt. Olympus have so many Gods gathered in one room," noted Keitel, looking about the room. "Each of tonight’s honorees does their part in making sure the creative process remains where it belongs, in the hands of the creatives. Let’s face it; if we had used focus groups on The Last Temptation of Christ, it would have ended with Jesus blowing away Pontius Pilate! So we honor their dedication, passion, and independent spirit, because it serves as an example and inspiration to the young filmmakers everywhere."
Keitel introduced DGA Member John Sayles, who presented the award to the Austin Film Society, which was being recognized for providing a haven for artists and serving as an example to the entertainment industry. "The Austin Film Society has had something that others haven't... a projection booth, for one thing," joked Sayles. DGA Member Richard Linklater (who founded the AFS 15 years ago for the exhibition of classic and current films and the support of indie filmmakers) and AFS executive director Rebecca Campbell accepted the award on the Society’s behalf.
Keitel next introduced his old co-star, Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro. De Niro presented the award to Teamsters' Local 817 President Thomas O'Donnell Sr., whose efforts have upheld labor's rights while encouraging production in New York. With typical Big Apple moxie, O'Donnell thanked the DGA stating, "There are many others more deserving. However, I do not find fault with their final choice."
The next honoree was New Line Cinema’s Robert Shaye, whose award was presented by DGA Member John Waters, an East Coast Indie filmmaking legend. Waters spoke fondly of Shaye's support for projects as out-there as Pink Flamingos, and Polyester. "I hitchhiked for my first trip to New York with New Line, and today Bob Shaye sent his jet," Waters joked.
Presenting the honor to Congressman Richard Gephardt was Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey, a good friend of Gephardt’s who dedicated a performance of The Iceman Cometh to the Democratic Party last year. The House minority leader Gephardt, a longtime supporter of First Amendment protections for filmmakers who has assisted in passing creative rights legislation and strongly allied with organized labor, quoted Abraham Lincoln in his defense of freedom of expression and expressed his jealousy of fellow honoree Martin Scorsese for the director's unmistakable eyebrows. "I am challenged by eyebrows," Gephardt quipped.
Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage, star of Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead, presented the filmmaker with the evening’s final award. "To define what makes a director great is not such an easy thing to do," said Cage. "To define what makes a director a genius is even more difficult yet no one in this room would deny that Martin Scorsese is both."
I’m particularly honored tonight by this award because the DGA is celebrating filmmaking in New York," said Scorsese, accepting his crystal eagle statuette. "This city is, and has been, such a large part of my life that it’s shaped me as a person and as a filmmaker. This city has been, and still is my inspiration as a filmmaker. When I got to make films, I couldn’t believe I was allowed to do it, let alone, get paid for it. In fact, it was quite a few years before I realized that I could get paid for it. At first, I didn’t think people would even see them, particularly Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. It was simply important for me just to make the films I wanted to make – to tell the stories I felt I had to try to tell.
"When I did Boxcar Bertha in ’72, I was amazed when I saw my name listed in the DGA directory with some of the greatest directors ever. And over the years, I’m personally indebted to the DGA for many things, but particularly for supporting directorial rights in so many arenas - especially Artists Rights. The DGA has been there all along and has always taken the tough, uncompromising stance to preserve the director’s vision. I thank the DGA for this honor tonight and for representing American directors so well for so many years."
Scorsese had previously announced the donation of his award's $15,000 grant to support a student filmmaker at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where he honed the skills that would make him a much-admired filmmaker. "He [Scorsese]’s not only generous with funds, but with his time," said Tisch School of the Arts Dean Mary Campbell. Campbell described how Scorsese continually assists the film students of his alma mater, meeting with them and arranging trips to visit his sets. According to Campbell, the DGA grant will be divided to benefit one undergraduate and one graduate student.
Other notable guests at the DGA Honors Gala included director Milos Forman; singer/actor Marc Anthony, actors Jane Alexander; Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order Special Victims Unit; Edie Falco, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Robin Green from the cast of The Sopranos; DGA Eastern Executive Director Christina Lomolino and DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth.
After the ceremonies, the guests mingled and danced the evening away to the sounds of the Peter Duchin Orchestra.