Baz Luhrmann is no stranger to accolades. The prolific Australian auteur’s projects regularly find themselves in contention come awards season, with last year’s “Elvis” being no exception. Receiving Variety’s Creative Impact in Directing Award this year for his accumulated work, however, allows him to reflect not only on his long resume of film, television, opera, theater and recording output, but also on the many people who he’s worked with along the way.
“I’m really honored by it, but I also feel it shines a light on the fact that I am in fact, a serial collaborator,” says Luhrmann, recognizing artists he’s worked with on “Elvis” and other films for years, such as director of photography Mandy Walker, costume designer Catherine Martin and re-recording mixer Andy Nelson.
“I represent a kind of large body of artists and creatives and actors who have created those works collectively. I really feel good for the way it makes them feel because they give their heart and soul into the art,” he adds.
Luhrmann’s kinetic brand of showmanship has developed and grown throughout his life and career from his upbringing in Australia. His mother being a ballroom dance teacher and dress shop owner, combined with his father running a movie theater, contributed to his unique and stylish approach to storytelling.
His debut on the world stage came in 1992 with “Strictly Ballroom,” which began as a short play at the Wharf Theatre in Sydney. The film’s breakout success led to his subsequent string of hits such as “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), “Moulin Rouge!” (2001), “Australia” (2008), “The Great Gatsby” (2013) and most recently “Elvis.”
Throughout his film career, Luhrmann has also found success in opera (Puccini’s “La Bohème” on Broadway in 2002), short-films/commercials such as “N° 5 the Film” for Chanel N° 5, featuring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro in 2004, and “The Secret Life of Flowers” for a collaboration between Erdem and H&M.
He worked as executive producer, writer and director for “The Get Down” on Netflix (co-created with playwright Stephen Adly Gurgis), and extensive work in music production, from 1997’s spoken-word song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” to his chart-topping soundtrack to “The Great Gatsby.”
“Baz Luhrmann has been at the forefront of international cinema as the rare auteur who also connects with global audiences,” says Variety’s executive VP of global content, Steven Gaydos. “Luhrmann makes distinctive, personal cinema on a grand scale, a reminder of Hollywood Golden Age directors who are revered as bold film artists and also remembered for creating big, accessible, beloved hit movies.”
Luhrmann will be presented the honor in Palm Springs, where two decades ago the festival bestowed the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, from his “Elvis” star, Austin Butler at Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch brunch on Jan. 6.
The prospect of receiving the Creative Impact Award for Directing at an event celebrating up-and-coming helmers reminds Luhrmann of advice he’d been given by filmmakers such as Peter Weir — who taught him which end of the camera lens to look into — when he was newer to the industry.
He was told “You have a singular way of telling stories. That’s not going to be easy but don’t give up on it,” Luhrmann says. “You’re Directors to Watch because you have a single way of telling stories, doesn’t matter what the story is, but it’s the way you tell it, that is getting everyone to put their eyes on you. So don’t let the way of telling get lost in what‘s ahead.”
Luhrmann joins past recipients of the Creative Impact in Directing Award such as Ryan Coogler, Tom Hooper, Patty Jenkins and last year’s honoree, Asghar Farhadi.