Humanitas honors ‘Lies,’ ‘Old,’ ‘Boys’

Mike Leigh, Walter Bernstein and Horton Foote on Wednesday won the top Humanitas Prizes, which honors writers for effectively communicating human values in their scripts.

Leigh wrote and directed October Films’ “Secrets & Lies,” which was honored “for its revelation of the common humanity that we share and for its probing look into the power of love to heal.”

Foote won the award in television for his CBS adaptation of “William Faulkner’s ‘Old Man,’ ” while Bernstein took the top cable prize for his script of HBO’s “Miss Evers’ Boys” (from David Feldshuh’s play).

The Humanitas Prizes were founded in 1974. Awards come with a cash prize, with each of the above-mentioned taking home $25,000. A total of $120,000 was given to the writers, with other scribes taking home $15,000 or $10,000.

David Mills won for an episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue” titled “Tailight’s Last Gleaming”; for the second time Alex Taub won in the children’s animated category, this year for an episode of Fox’s “Life With Louie” titled “The Thank You Note.”

Other awards went to NBC’s “Something So Right” in the 30-minute category for the episode “Something About an Older Guy,” written by Bob Tischler; and HBO’s “Someone Had to Be Benny,” written by Bruce Harmon, in the children’s live-action television category.

In a keynote speech, producer John Wells discussed the responsibilities of the writer.

“We do make a difference; we change people, their opinions,” he said. “We inform our audience, not just nationally, but worldwide. We influence them with our own prejudices, hatreds, fears, fantasies. And we also inform them with our good, our humanity, with our characters leading their lives, struggling as our own viewers struggle, searching for meaning and connection and love. They listen to us, they believe us, they accept what we say as truth.”

But he added that “we have ceded this moral high ground by lazily refusing to show the consequences of these actions, by appealing to our collective fantasies of action without consequence. Guns are fired, yes, but not without blood, tragedy, ruined lives. People do have casual sex but not without loss of self-esteem, AIDS and pregnancy.

“We must regain this high ground; it is our right. But we are going to have to earn it through our own responsible actions as artists, through establishing higher standards for ourselves and four our work.”

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