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In a move certain to spark controversy, and a potential backlash, Spain’s San Sebastian International Film Festival will honor actor Johnny Depp with its Donostia Award, a lifetime achievement honor that recognizes “outstanding contributions to the film world.”
Depp, inarguably one of the world’s most successful and well-known actors, is these days often seen as publicly toxic after his failed libel suit against British tabloid The Sun, which ended with the courts upholding the paper’s description of him as a “wife beater” and the ruling judge indicating he believed Depp had assaulted ex-wife Amber Heard on multiple occasions. The ruling led directly to Warner Bros. dumping Depp from its Fantastic Beasts franchise and replacing him with Mads Mikkelsen in the role of evil wizard Grindelwald. More recently, Minamata, a passion project for Depp in which he plays an American photographer who brought the world’s attention to a devastating environmental disaster in Japan, was reportedly buried by MGM to avoid the controversy swirling around its star.
But all that hasn’t deterred San Sebastian, which, unveiling the Donostia Award on Monday, called Depp “one of contemporary cinema’s most talented and versatile actors.” Depp will receive his Donostia Award in San Sebastian on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
In response to a query from The Hollywood Reporter, San Sebastian’s festival director José Luis Rebordinos explained his decision to honor Depp, despite the controversy surrounding him.
“The role of a film festival is not to judge the conduct of members of the film industry. The role of a film festival is to select the most relevant and interesting films of the year and to extend recognition to those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the art of film,” Rebordinos said in a statement. “The Donostia Award to Johnny Depp is our recognition of a great actor, a man of cinema with a great career, who visited us last year as producer of the film Crock of Gold: A Few Round With Shane Macgowan by Julien Temple, which won the Special Jury Prize.”
Last year’s Donostia Award recipient was Viggo Mortensen, who also presented his directorial debut, Falling, at San Sebastian in 2020.
San Sebastian introduced the Donostia Award in 1986, with acting legend Gregory Peck as its first recipient. Previous winners have also included Glenn Ford (1987), Bette Davies (1989), Lauren Bacall (1992), Anthony Hopkins (1998) and Glenn Close (2011). The festival often names multiple winners in a single year, honoring both Antonio Banderas and Meryl Streep in 2008, or Penélope Cruz, Donald Sutherland and director Costa-Gavras (Missing) in 2019.
The 69th San Sebastian Film Festival, which runs Sept. 17-25, has already unveiled much of its lineup, which will include new films from arthouse favorites Terence Davies, Claudia Llosa and Lucile Hadzihalilovic, in competition, respectively, with Benediction, Fever Dream and Earwig, as well as a more mainstream Spanish-language program that includes Fernando León de Aranoa’s comedy The Good Boss, starring Javier Bardem, and the fortune hunter TV series La Fortuna from The Others director Alejandro Amenabar.
The winner of the Spanish festival’s competition program is honored with its Golden Shell award. In 2020, the award went to Beginning, the debut feature from Georgian director Dea Kulumbegashvili.
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