Lee, Schamus honored at ShoWest

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LAS VEGAS -- Ang Lee and James Schamus received the inaugural ShoWest/NATO Freedom of Expression Award on Tuesday during the annual exhibition and distribution confab.

National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian presented the award, calling the recipients "men of courage, imagination and genius" while addressing the pair's recent "Lust, Caution" and its NC-17 rating.

"There was never any doubt that these visionary filmmakers were going to release this picture as intended without cutting it to take an R rating," Fithian said, adding that he hoped this would also "crush another myth -- that exhibitors won't play NC-17 films."

Said Schamus: "I came to understand that in order to preserve our freedoms to create and to inspire ... we also need to respect our audiences and trust them and trust ourselves to say things that at times are shocking, different and new -- and not necessarily for the kids.

"It was a great experience with 'Lust, Caution' to go through this process, (first) because I had colleagues at Universal ... who were unbelievably supportive and understating." He went on to recognize MPAA's Dan Glickman and thanked exhibitors, saying, "We are appreciative of your grace, your support, your being there for us."

Lee dedicated the award to "my brilliant and courageous filmmakers, cast and crew in making 'Lust, Caution.' ... I want to salute you and especially Tang Wei in this very difficult time. We support her in fighting for the freedom of expression."

The Beijing government last week banned Tang from all Chinese media because of the sexual nature of her performance in "Lust." Also on Tuesday, Robert Redford, who accepted the ShoWest Visionary Award, urged the exhibition community to "continue to build a market for new voices and new works, continue to take chances on good stories, well told and told in new ways."

He added: "Specialty films are now becoming the norm. With these films becoming so deeply ingrained in our American culture, I do feel we are the better for it. All of this has benefited greatly from your attention to films that easily could have been overlooked or simply lost in the shuffle."

The ShoWest Award for Excellence in Filmmaking was presented to David Mamet, whose new film "Redbelt" was screened at the confab.

"We don't have censorship in this country," he said. "What we have is ... the marketplace of ideas if you can get out there and convince people to publish your book or put on your movies."

Alan Ball received the award for Groundbreaking Filmmaker of 2008, and his upcoming "Towelhead" was previewed here.

"I want thank people who show movies," he said.

Helen Hunt, whose directorial debut "Then She Found Me" was screened at ShoWest, was recognized as Breakthrough Director of the Year. She thanked theater owners for supporting "the kind of movie I hope to be in and now have begun to make -- by that I mean movies where people talk to each other, where people feel things deeply and fiercely."
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