The Parker Palm Springs, with its sparkling blue pool and citrus-colored chaise lounges, was the setting Wednesday morning for the Creative Impact Awards brunch feting the 21st edition of Variety‘s 10 Directors to Watch.
Among the celebrities at the festive brunch, sponsored by Cadillac and coinciding with the 29th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, were “Molly’s Game” writer and director Aaron Sorkin, honored with the creative impact in writing award; Jessica Chastain, who presented Sorkin with his honor; “Get Out” writer and director Jordan Peele, who honored the film’s star Daniel Kaluuya, on hand to accept the creative impact in acting award; “Wonder Woman” director and creative impact in directing award recipient Patty Jenkins; and Wonder Woman, herself, Gal Gadot, who teared-up while presenting Jenkins with her award.
“She’s the first woman to receive [the award] but if she has her way, she won’t be the last,” gushed Israel-born actress Gadot of her “Wonder Woman” director. “She brings light into the world and she makes everything she touches brighter.”
In turn, Jenkins called Gadot her “best friend in the world and an incredible actress.”
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Jenkins, who also directed the 2003 Oscar-winning drama “Monster,” revealed she wasn’t much thinking about gender or the role of women in society when she set out to make “Wonder Woman.”
“My greatest aspiration was to make a tentpole [movie] a great film,” she said. “I wanted to make it as personal as possible. When the conversation became so much about women, I was taken aback. I am extremely honored to play a part in moving that conversation forward. But [one of my first thoughts was], you’re so shocked women can do this? That’s when I realized we had succeeded. I believe in my ability to inspire and change the world.”
Chastain, who plays Olympic-bound skier-turned-poker-game-impresario Molly Bloom in Sorkin’s directorial debut, said Sorkin has “had a profound impact on our culture,” and that “Aaron’s deep understanding of his characters has always set his work at a different echelon.”
She also applauded Sorkin for creating a female character “defined by her words and actions,” and who “doesn’t adhere to traditional gender roles,” a rarity in the film business.
“He lifts us from the status quo,” Chastain continued of Sorkin. “He examines us as a way to enlighten us.”
Sorkin was filled with equal amounts of admiration for Chastain, whom he acknowledged for her contributions to women’s rights in Hollywood.
“Change is coming,” he said. “It’s not going to come by itself, and I am very glad that you’re at the front of its army.”
Sorkin also spoke of those moments earlier in his career when he didn’t quite make the Oscar noms list for a film that he had written, and how his father put things in perspective.
“‘How many people in the world even work up in the morning with even an expectation to be nominated?'” Sorkin recounted his father saying to him. “For most people, it’s an honor just to be nominated. In my family, it’s just an honor to be overlooked.”
In his introductory remarks, Variety’s vice president and executive editor Steven Gaydos, who created the 10 to Watch list as a way to salute gifted artists on the rise, praised Harold Matzner, the celebrated chairman of PSIFF, as well as world renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, who designed the awards for the Variety honorees.
“Every film festival in the world should be so lucky to have a Harold Matzner,” said Gaydos, who makes his home in Palm Springs. “The festival is one of the key events in this wonderful community.”
He also made note of the impending “social change” in Hollywood and proceeded to recognize the female leaders at Variety’s editorial and marketing helm: publisher Michelle Sobrino, co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller; CMO Dea Lawrence; Dawn Allen, vice president of film and talent, and Brooke Turpin, vice president of global consumer and strategic partnerships.
“How’s that for executive leadership at Variety?” Gaydos asked.
Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge next introduced the 10 Directors to Watch, a selection of gifted artists working in the documentary, feature and genre realms.
“Putting this list together is my favorite part of the job,” said Debruge of the following chosen helmers: Adil El Arbi and Billall Fallah (“Gangsta”); Augustine Frizzell (“Never Going Back”); Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”); Joseph Kahn (“Bodied”); Xavier LeGrand (“Custody”); Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”); Anthony Maras (“Hotel Mumbai”); Samuel Maoz (“Foxtrot”); Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia”); and Chloe Zhao (“The Rider”). El Arbi and Fallah, Frizzell, Kahn, Estrada, Maoz, and Maras were all at the brunch to accept their awards.
But perhaps the most poignant moment of the brunch pivoted around Kaluuya’s acceptance speech. Peele, who called the breakout star “a dream” to work with as a first-time director, revealed how meaningful the film’s subject matter was for Kaluuya; how he “got the script….that familiarity of being black in white spaces.” Peele also revealed that they shot five takes of “Get Out’s” powerful hypnotism scene, and that with each take, “one tear rolled down [Daniel’s] cheek at the exact same moment.”
“This is a weird ride for me,” Kaluuya humbly said. “I feel like I’m just a representative of the cast and crew right now. It was a 23-day shoot, and I just wanted to put my head down and honor this story. What I need to do my job is belief. I don’t know why we have to live in a world where, because of the hue that I am, people don’t. But I am so grateful for the belief that Jordan and everybody else has had in me.”