Santa Barbara Film Fest: Jane Fonda Feted with Kirk Douglas Award

Jane Fonda SBIFF - H
Scott Feinberg

"I looked at those clips and it was really hard to do," said Jane Fonda on Saturday night at the Bacara Resort & Spa in Goleta, Calif., where she accepted the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film at the end of a fundraising dinner ceremony during which numerous scenes from her illustrious career were projected. "I just wish I could do them over because I could do it better — and I'm so glad I feel that way 'cause one of the things that can make you really old is when you stop wanting to change, and grow, and learn, and stay curious, you know?"

The 77-year-old daughter of Henry Fonda and sister of Peter Fonda has been making films since 1960 and has two best actress Oscars to her name — but she hasn't been nominated in 28 years. This year, though, she is generating considerable best supporting actress Oscar buzz for her brief but powerful turn as an aging movie star in Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, a drama that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and will hit U.S. theaters on Dec. 4. It's a performance that was very much a topic of discussion at the ceremony — where tables weren't numbered but rather were named after various Fonda films — with two of her toasters, who happen to be vying for accolades this season in the same category as her, mentioning it in their remarks. Love & Mercy's Elizabeth Banks called it "a knockout turn … another unforgettable performance," while Trumbo's Diane Lane called it "indelible."

Banks, in introducing a montage of Fonda's work, noted similarities between the award's namesake and recipient. "Like Mr. Douglas, Jane is a true Hollywood legend, one from a celebrated family of actors and activists," she said. "She is a certified broad who collects wonderful women; she is outspoken, no-nonsense and trailblazing; she has had enough experiences to fill five lifetimes; she's had a career spanning five decades; and, if you spend five minutes with her, you know that she is nowhere near done yet."

Banks, who became one of the few women ever to direct a big studio film this year — she helmed the summer blockbuster Pitch Perfect 2 — cited 1980's 9 to 5 as a personal favorite of Fonda's work. "Even as a 7-year-old, I knew that if I ever became a boss those were exactly the kind of workdays that I was gonna have — and I am keeping my lawyers busy."

Lane, a past SBIFF honoree, was the last to speak before Fonda's turn at the podium. She thanked her friend for having "informed my life — our lives — with your courage, honesty and tremendous spirit," and likened watching Fonda's work to getting high. She added, "Recently, during promotional requirements for a movie, I was asked who Wonder Woman is to me. What do you think my answer was? Jane Fonda."

The SBIFF career achievement honor, which is presented several months before the fest itself, has previously been awarded to the likes of Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford and Jessica Lange. Fonda has long known but never worked with Douglas — something he himself pointed out in videotaped remarks, not being up to attending the ceremony in-person. "I have done about 90 movies, and unfortunately none of them say, 'With Jane Fonda and Kirk Douglas' … But now you have 'Jane Fonda, winner of the Kirk Douglas Award!'"

Fonda — who did work with Douglas' son Michael Douglas on 1979's The China Syndrome — later said, "How about Kirk Douglas? He looks good in a ponytail. … It's an honor to receive this award with his name on it." She then volunteered, "Acting has saved me many times. I have, over the years, taken hiatuses. I once left the business, I thought forever, [for Ted] Turner, my favorite ex-husband. Off I went, and I didn't miss it for a second. But I came back at 65, which is pretty unusual, and I feel very, very blessed that I was able to have a new career so late in life and, as a result, be able to spend time with people who are so profoundly inspired, moving and talented. And I'm so happy to say that I'm almost 78 — and I still feel like a student."