Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar to Be Honored at a Topsy
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Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar to Be Honored at a Topsy

Aug 29, 2023

By David Canfield

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced its first round of Tribute Award winners, with Oscar-winning filmmakers Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar confirmed to be fêted up in Canada next month with the Ebert Director Award and the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media, respectively.

Of immediate note here is that, as of now, neither director has a film slated to screen at the festival. Since the TIFF Tribute Awards began in 2019, every person selected for the director prize also had a movie in play—and an Oscar push to get off the ground. The showcase marked pivotal early moments on the campaign trail for Taika Waititi, Chloé Zhao, and Denis Villeneuve, whose movies all went on to win Oscars; last year, Sam Mendes was named the recipient in a promising early sign before his new film, Empire of Light, flatlined with critics and audiences.

Lee’s selection, by contrast, reorients the presentation as a standalone celebration of a Hollywood legend, outside the noisy confines of awards season. It’s not immediately clear whether the move was necessitated by the dual SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, which will greatly limit attendance in Toronto next month compared to a typical year for the festival, but it does offer a clear indication of just how different this year’s event will feel—if still represented by heavy-hitting talent.

“The TIFF Ebert Director Award recognizes filmmakers who have exemplified greatness in their career,” TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey said in a statement. “A foremost storyteller of our era, Spike’s body of work from She’s Gotta Have it, to Do the Right Thing to Mo’ Better Blues, to his most recent film at TIFF 2021, American Utopia, Spike has inspired audiences and made a lasting impact on the art of filmmaking.”

Notable directors with movies at TIFF 2023 include Alexander Payne (The Holdovers), Richard Linklater (Hit Man), and Craig Gillespie (Dumb Money). While some aren’t credited as writers on their films, each is a member of the WGA, which can impact how they participate in the festival. Several actors turned directors are also featured on the program and seeking acquisition of their titles, with some like Ethan Hawke’s Wildcat already securing interim agreements. But sources tell Vanity Fair that both the optics and logistics of exactly how they will be executed for promotion remain fluid and case-by-case.

The actor tribute, should TIFF still feature that award as part of its program, will almost certainly not be able to play the same role as it has in years past, when Brendan Fraser, Jessica Chastain, and Joaquin Phoenix were honored before going on to win the Oscar. (TIFF has confirmed for Vanity Fair that the festival will still present actor awards this year.) Despite having Oscar hopes this season, Annette Bening (Nyad), Michael Fassbender (Next Goal Wins), and Colman Domingo (Rustin) will not be able to attend TIFF, since the likes of Netflix and Disney’s Searchlight are backing their contenders. Meanwhile, Oscar winners Chastain and Kate Winslet are among the A-listers top-lining TIFF movies without a studio attached, rendering their situation murkier.

Almodóvar follows in the footsteps of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Alanis Obomsawin, and Mira Nair with the Award in Impact Media, which recognizes forces behind socially impactful cinema. The Spanish auteur has hit the festival circuit this year with his short film, Strange Way of Life, starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke. (It premiered in Cannes, and Sony Pictures Classics has acquired it for release.) The Western is not currently on the TIFF program, though the lineup has yet to be fully revealed.

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“It’s a true thrill to acknowledge Pedro Almodóvar as the distinguished recipient of the Jeff Skoll Impact Media Award for 2023,” Bailey said. “Pedro has been coming to TIFF for years and each time is better than the time before. His artistic vision, bold storytelling, and unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of cinema have had a profound impact on cinema. He challenges societal norms, champions diversity, and illuminates the human experience with sensitivity and grace. We applaud his contributions to cinema and celebrate his ability to inspire and provoke audiences worldwide.”

TIFF’s 2023 edition takes place between September 7–17.

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From the Archive: Too Hepburn for Hollywood (2006)

Spike LeePedro AlmodóvarTaika Waititi, Chloé Zhao,Denis Villeneuve,Sam MendesCameron BaileyAlexander PayneRichard LinklaterCraig GillespieEthan Hawke’sBrendan Fraser, Jessica Chastain,Joaquin PhoenixAnnette BeningMichael FassbenderColman DomingoKate WinsletBuffy Sainte-Marie, Alanis Obomsawin,Mira NairPedro PascalEthan Hawke.