New sked turns AFI fest into a quick hit

Org salutes 'Believer,' 'Boomtown,' 'Adaptation,' others

The American Film Institute welcomed a stellar turnout for an “AFI Awards 2002” luncheon that was energetic, fast and fun.

The org last month named 10 “significant” TV shows and 10 films from last year that deserved recognition; the lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel Thursday was to salute the creatives behind those works. The absence of TV cameras and the lack of competition — as well as acceptance speeches — gave a relaxed and upbeat mood to the two-hour event.

Food was pretty much an afterthought as 200 honorees and 30 guests (mostly AFI trustees) began with an hour of elbow-rubbing and table-hopping, where lunchgoers could see Bob Shaye and Harvey Weinstein looking gregarious, Hugh Grant and Spike Jonze looking shy, Edie Falco chatting with Renee Zellweger, and Nicole Kidman in huddles with Sydney Pollack.

Other guests included Jon Avnet, Stephen Daldry, Phillip Noyce, Martin Scorsese, Julie Taymor, Denzel Washington and Chris & Paul Weitz, Robert Greenblatt & David Janollari; and actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Salma Hayek, Nicole Kidman, William H. Macy and Nia Vardalos.

The decision for an informal, non-televised event was a brilliant stroke after last year’s AFI awards saw a low star turnout, which many attributed to the fact that the event was held Jan. 5, when many industryites were still on vacation.

Jean Picker Firstenberg spoke briefly, saying the afternoon was AFI’s “annual almanac to honor and archive works of excellence.”

After lunch on Thursday, the org saluted the works in a 45-minute program. Rich Frank read the judges’ one- or two-sentence appreciation of each TV piece, followed by a brief film clip; on the film side, Leonard Maltin did the honors.

The TV salutes included a mixture of series and telefilms: “The Believer,” “Boomtown,” “Door to Door,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Gathering Storm,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Simpsons,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing.”

The 10 films saluted were “About a Boy,” “About Schmidt,” “Adaptation,” “Antwone Fisher,” “Chicago,” “Frida,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Hours,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Quiet American.”

At the wrap of the event, honorees were given framed certificates for their contributions, and everyone was handed an Award Season Survival Kit, which included Rolaids and Hollywood Stress Mints.

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