NYFF: Evenings with Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke

GereHawkeOver the past couple of weeks, the 52nd New York Film Festival has continued an annual tradition by feting a few noteworthy individuals and giving them a moment in the sun. Each year, a selected artist or two are given an evening in their honor, with this year the two honorees being Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke. Gere was being honored for his career/performance in the film Time Out of Mind, while Hawke was having his career celebrated as well as his documentary Seymour: An Introduction. I was in attendance for both evenings as a guest and found them to be classy, memorable, touching, and showed a new side to each of them. Furthermore, it only helps with my thoughts that next year we could see them in the awards race for their respective projects.

At the first event, Hawke was the one who got the tribute. He’s a very cool guy, seemingly just at home shooting the breeze against the wall as sitting down at this swanky event. The brief moments I spoke to him were focused on the crazy year he’s had, basically promoting his trio of Academy Award contenders in a row. He spoke about how he was so fascinated by pianist Seymour Bernstein that he had to make the documentary Seymour: An Introduction, as well as the possibility of more Before films with Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater. He seemed lukewarm on that idea, especially after Before Midnight was something that he really wanted to tackle, saying “This idea of making a third film was very important to me. I’m not sure about a fourth. It’s possible, but if the second film was a call, the third film was an answer, and I feel that if there were a fourth film it would be starting a second trilogy.” There was also a lovely story about working on Dead Poets Society as well as a very heartfelt thanks to everyone in attendance at this small gathering for supporting the arts. Overall, he seemed genuinely touched by the moment and almost unsure how to process it all after giving so much to these works. He said “…I feel incredibly naked here tonight. This moment is a finishing moment for me.”

Hawke’s chat touched on a number of other things, including Linklater’s Boyhood, for which he could very well wind up a Best Supporting Actor nominee this year. He made sure to point out that the head of IFC Jonathan Sehring was in attendance and turned the attention for him momentarily, along with co-financier from AMC Josh Sapan, saying “The biggest miracle of that movie is that somebody believed in the idea enough to not recoup on their investment in a world where everything is about money and what’s happening next year. These guys, who are here tonight, said, ‘You know what, I’ll take a break from that line of thinking for a minute and I’ll give Richard Linklater a chance.” The audience was heavily comprised of Boyhood fans, so that got a nice round of applause, though the best was saved for later on in the evening.

A ridiculously cool and surreal moment occurred towards the end when Hawke actually got his documentary subject Bernstein to get up and play on the piano. The musician had only performed in public one other time in the last 40 years, turning to teaching instead, so this was something rather incredible to witness (I posted a short video clip on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, if you follow me there). Colleague Scott Feinberg, one of the other members of the press in attendance, was as stunned and thrilled as I was. It was a moment not to be forgotten, and if Bernstein is willing to periodically play (as well as tell the delightful stories he regaled us with) on the circuit next year, there’s no reason why Seymour: An Introduction can’t be a major player in the Best Documentary Feature race. Hell, if there’s an Oscar qualifying run this year, the Academy might very well cite it now. In either year, it can even be a threat to win.

At the most recent event, Gere was the one being honored. Here’s a man who knows how to work a room and give personal attention. Despite being a veteran of the industry for decades, with most of that time spent on the A-list, he still talks to everyone like he’s the new kid on the block. On multiple occasions he came over to the table I was seated at to chat with everyone, giving me a shoulder rub at one memorable point early in the night. Then, he sat down for the big talk, and seemed really taken by the love being shown to him. He said “This is one of the great moments of my life, being here with you tonight“, and I believed him.

He spoke a lot about Time Out of Mind, obviously, saying how he’s been working to bring it to the screen for nearly two decades. “I bought the script and I was gonna direct it myself“, he said, though obviously in the final years filmmaker Oren Moverman came on board and was able to help shepherd it through to the finish line. In regard to Moverman and his involvement after years of Gere failing to crack the code from all angles, the actor said “He wrote a brilliant script an also decided to direct it, which made me really happy because I could just focus on this really complex character.” It’s a good thing too, as both helped to craft something very special. Next year, he should certainly be in the conversation for a Best Actor nomination.

Something Gere said about acting struck me too. He said that “…repetition deadens me…“, speaking about his acting process. He also talked about the transformative experience of blending in to the streets of New York City as the homeless man George he plays in the movie, particularly while walking in lower Manhattan. “I’ve been down there a million times, usually rushing through to try not to be recognized. But as the character I was freaked out because no one would even make eye contact with me.” When you all see Time Out of Mind, you’ll see just what he means. Gere is a very clear speaker, so that can only help him on the awards trail for this one. Best Actor is overcrowded this year, so if the film is held until 2015 like it seems to be on pace to be, that’ll give him plenty of time to work the right rooms and get this movie seen. If he does, the overdue actor could finally find himself with that elusive first Academy Award citation.

Both the Gere and Hawke events were very personal affairs, filled will intimate chats between old friends and strangers, but they also were full of hearty industry chatter as well, making this an interesting bit of inside baseball. The New York Film Festival honored both gentlemen in a very nice way, something they each certainly deserved. In the next year, I expect both to continue to receive accolades, and rightly so. This toast from NYFF should be just the tip of the iceberg…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!