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Glenn Close and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle stressed the importance of independent film and spoke of the challenges they overcame to make two of their noteworthy indies, at the 2014 Sundance Institute benefit in New York Wednesday night.
Close and Chazelle were both honored for their commitment to independent film by the organization behind Robert Redford‘s annual Park City festival.
The veteran actress, who’s starred in what she counts as 13 independent films, also makes studio fare like The Stepford Wives, 101 Dalmations and this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but she’s enthusiastic about independent cinema.
“I have a passionate and lifelong commitment to independent film and the risky, edgy, personal, provocative, quiet, fierce and often heartbreaking stories that are often the soul of independent film,” she said as she accepted the Vanguard Leadership Award, presented by her longtime friend Jeremy Irons, who flew in from London specifically for the occasion, leading Close to say she really owed him one.
“I love being in independent movies,” Close added. “I love the casts that gather around a good piece of writing certainly not for the money but because it is good and challenging. And you will spend your days with people who want to be there for all the right reasons. I love to be a part of movies that almost don’t get made.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Wednesday night’s ceremony at Stage 37 on the west side of Manhattan, Close said that she’s motivated to continue to make indies, citing the interesting material and how her involvement might help a movie get off the ground.
“There has to be a reason for me to do it, a character I’m interested in. Sometimes I’ve taken a role for one scene that I thought was phenomenal,” the award-winning actress said. “And then also my presence can help them get money, so it’s I think a way for me to give back.”
During her speech, Close paid tribute to many of the guests at the benefit, including George Lucas, wife Mellody Hobson, Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, whom she met when she starred in an earlier film he directed called Heights, as well as those who helped her raise the money to make her 14-year passion project Albert Nobbs.
While thanking them for their support and recalling their willingness to take a chance on a creative project, one she also invested in, Close demonstrated the financial risks of independent filmmaking in a humorous bit in which she dropped to her knees and asked God to “somehow help” her investors “make back their money.”
In his intro, Irons said Close’s “passion and commitment to tell the stories that others might not pursue because they’re not easy to tell” is evidenced by her work to get Albert Nobbs made.
Chazelle also spoke to the financial challenges of making Whiplash during his acceptance speech for the Vanguard Award, for his unique vision and creative independence, which was presented to him by Sundance alum and supporter Keri Russell.
Whiplash not only premiered at Sundance, where it was well-received and won the audience and jury awards, but it was also made with a development grant, script mentorship and postproduction help from the Sundance Institute feature film program.
Chazelle said he was grateful that Sundance welcomed him into its community and that he was able to get funding for his movie about a jazz drummer, saying that the film was what people in Hollywood would call “an execution-dependent project,” a phrase that was greeted with laughter in the room full of indie-film supporters.
Sundance, Chazelle said, “helped me execute it.”
“They were there from the beginning. Sundance played the short that helped me raise money for the feature. Then they came in and they paired me with amazing advisers. Then they read the script and really honed in on what I was telling and if anything made the project even more specific,” he explained.
He thanked those involved with the film as well everyone in the audience “who helped me make this thing and is helping keep those kinds of small execution-dependent movies alive.”
Now that Chazelle has executed his film, he’s reaping the rewards of its enthusiastic Sundance reception, telling The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the ceremony that the response to Whiplash has opened doors for him.
“I think it’s really changed things a lot,” he said. “There’s even specific projects that I’m working on that I just couldn’t get off the ground before Whiplash. And it’s funny how a single screening or a single movie or a single festival platform can change things so much, but I’ve certainly experienced that.”
Chazelle said he was amazed and flattered when he was told he was being honored and said his whole experience with Whiplash, which Sony Pictures Classics will release in the fall, was so full of surprises that he’s “getting used to being surprised.”