“When you look at the roles she’s played, they’re so diverse it can blow your mind,” observed Robert Redford of Glenn Close in a videotaped message screened at Wednesday night’s Celebrate Sundance Institute benefit in New York.
While the Sundance founder was said to be “somewhere on the Appalachian Trail” shooting his new movie, “A Walk in the Woods,” many other luminaries of stage and screen turned out in person to fete the six-time Oscar nominee, who was presented with the Institute’s third annual Vanguard Leadership Award.
“She reminds me of those tough settlers who originally peopled this land: hard-working and committed, but with a wicked sense of humor. A devastating combination,” said presenter Jeremy Irons, who first starred opposite Close on Broadway in the 1983 production of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” for which she won the Best Actress Tony.
On stage, an ebullient Close noted that her association with Sundance dates back to the set of Barry Levinson’s 1984 baseball drama “The Natural,” in which she starred opposite Redford. It was there, Close recalled, that Redford told her about his four great passions in life: “His family, protecting the environment, Native American culture and art, and Sundance,” then just three years into its existence.
In the three decades since, the actress has served as one of the Institute’s industry mentors, working with aspiring filmmakers at the annual screenplay and directing labs, including a young Quentin Tarantino when he was developing what would become “Reservoir Dogs.”
“I have a passionate and lifelong commitment to independent film,” said Close, who has appeared in seven films that premiered at Sundance, adding, “I love being a part of movies that almost don’t get made.”
One such film was Close’s own 2011 passion project “Albert Nobbs,” which she spent 15 years trying to finance. Joining Close at her table for the evening were several of the backers responsible for eventually bringing the $8 million movie to the screen, including her husband, David Shaw, and Texas real-estate moguls John and Cami Goff, whom Close originally met at a Dallas dinner party when she was seeking investors for the movie.
“Dear God, I know you’ve got a lot to think about” Close said, dropping to her knees onstage in mock prayer. “But I will be eternally grateful if you somehow help John, Cami and David to make back their money!”
Also among Close’s guests were Oscar-winning “Argo” screenwriter Chris Terrio, who had to borrow money from a friend in order to take Close out to lunch when he was a novice indie filmmaker seeking to cast the actress in his 2005 debut feature, “Heights”; actor Bob Balaban; investment banker Mellody Hobson; and Hobson’s husband, George Lucas, whom Close praised for embodying the “autonomy and singularity of vision” that rest at the heart of independent cinema.
The evening also saw a Vanguard Award presented to writer-director Damien Chazelle, whose sophomore feature, “Whiplash,” won both the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance festival. Gently chiding Hollywood for its fear of “execution-dependent projects” and for “catering to some preconceived notion of a global audience,” Chazelle (who developed “Whiplash” at the Sundance labs), described independent filmmaking as “taking stuff that’s very local and specific and making it universal.”
In giving Chazelle his award, Keri Russell praised the 29-year-old filmmaker as “one of the next great voices in American cinema.”
Also in attendance for the now-annual Sundance Institute fete, which alternates years between east and west coasts: Sundance executive director Keri Putnam and festival honchos John Cooper and Trevor Groth; Disney production prexy Sean Bailey; directors Darren Aronofsky and Lee Daniels; actors Boyd Holbrook, Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto and Marisa Tomei.