Ava DuVernay Accidentally Drinks Liquor for First Time While Honoring 'Birdman' Director

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Keri Putnam and Ava DuVernay

The 'Birdman' director was presented with an honor as an independent filmmaker.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay accidentally broke her "no alcohol" rule before honoring Birdman director Alejandro González Inarritu at the Sundance Institute Celebration on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

Prior to DuVernay's speech, shots of whiskey were placed in front of each guest’s plate for a toast to the Institute's executive director, Keri Putnam. DuVernay, however, mistook the small shot for oil dressing and poured it on her salad, sacrificing her alcohol virginity a bite later.

“I’ve never had a drink in my whole life," DuVernay said after taking the stage. "I was raised Catholic. I didn’t even drink at mass … yet tonight when I sat down there was this small glass at the top of my salad. I thought this was oil and I poured it on. I said, 'This is the best salad I’ve ever had.' I feel warm inside. I’m just hoping I make it through this for a very great man.”

DuVernay, who serves as a Sundance Institute board member, presented the Vanguard Leadership Award to Inarritu.

“He brings a lot of humanity to his work," DuVernay told The Hollywood Reporter earlier on the red carpet. "He definitely puts his heart in every frame."

Inarritu, fresh off of a long shoot in the Canadian mountains, expressed he was humbled because he “always had a difficult relationship with awards.”

“I deeply feel like I’m not deserving," said Iñárritu. "Probably as a self degradation or a childhood trauma."

The Oscar-winning director expressed that in today’s film word, entertainment is held to a standard of needing to be “fast and spectacular” rather than depicting simple, touching and sometimes imperfect human emotions. He applauded the Sundance Institute for encouraging films based on their art rather than on box office value.

“Sundance has reiterated every year that the greatness of film has less to do with size, budget or the box office result and more with its integrity and the value of the free and independent expression, a singular and individual expression of the world through sonic images," Inarritu said. "We all, in this room, in one way or the other, are Vanguard.”

He concluded with the statement that art should reflect the imperfectness of society. 

“Art is created because the world is not perfect and that’s why the Sundance Institute exists,” he said.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia, who’s soon to be appearing on Orange is the New Black, presented the Vanguard Award to his New York apartment neighbor and director Marielle Heller, whose film Diary of A Teenage Girl, starring Kristen Wiigsold to Sony Pictures Classics at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Birbiglia joked that he was the presenter because Wiig was not able to be secured, and recalled being shocked that his director neighbor who borrowed his Costco card for grocery runs was “secretly a genius.”

“Last year she asked me and my wife to watch a cut of her movie Diary of a Teenage Girl in her basement, and I thought, 'Well I’ll prepare some polite things to say when this movie is terrible …' Then I saw the movie and, like most people, I was floored,” Birbiglia said. “She is like an indie film superhero in disguise.”

Heller recalled her molding her skills as a director with mentors including director Ed Harris at the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Fellow and Directing Fellows programs — leading her to receive a grant to make a two-minute teaser for Diary, which eventually interested Wiig to join the film. She said that without Sundance, she doesn’t know how Diary would have ever been made.

“This award means so many things to me, but most of all it's a reminder of what Sundance did for me and for my dream,” said Heller. “During my time here I felt like I found a home. A home filled with very smart and creative people who share a love for independent films and a belief that they are all that movies can and should be.”

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