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Ted Sarandos admits to being confused when close friend Lawrence Bender asked him to accept the Humanitarian of the Year honor from UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at its annual gala.
“I would say that I’ve not done enough work on behalf of the environment directly to deserve such an honor tonight,” the Netflix chief content officer humbly recalled on Thursday night while onstage under a big white tent on the side lawn of the impressive home of Hyatt Hotel heir Tony Pritzker and wife Jeanne. “But I hope in this acceptance speech, I can bring more attention to the people who do, the real environmental warriors — documentary filmmakers.”
And Sarandos did just that, highlighting many “brave storytellers” who have made it possible to create positive change through their documentary work, elevated by Netflix’s global reach. He singled out Orlando von Einsiedel’s Virunga, Robert Nixon and Fisher Stevens’ Mission Blue, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn’s Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret and the upcoming eight-part series Our Planet. (He also mentioned food-centric projects like Chef’s Table and Cook, that “celebrate food and explore challenges to our food supply because of a shifting environmental landscape.”)
Our Planet marks Netflix’s biggest documentary project to date due to its scale and scope. It’s a four-year collaboration with Silverback Films’ Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, “the masterminds behind Blue Planet,” said Sarandos, who received a standing ovation and was introduced by friend Norman Lear, also welcomed to the stage via standing ovation (“I get a standing ovation … because I’m f—ing standing up,” he said to rousing laughter). “It will take you to parts of the world never before caught on film and show last animals of their breeds to remind us of what we’ve lost and what we still have to preserve.”
After all of the above, Sarandos delivered on his promise with his acceptance speech, before he summed up what his part is. “This is the work that I can do,” he said. “I can provide a platform for the new modern environmental warriors.”
He also provided some insight into his personal life, thanking Bender for being a role model in philanthropy and for introducing him to the “great work being done here at UCLA” at IoES. But about the personal: “For my money, Lawrence has a really great track record for introductions because he introduced me to my wife as well. Thank you for that introduction most of all, Lawrence,” he said with a smile, while looking out into the gala crowd at wife Nicole Avant.
Bender was on the receiving end of many of the night’s biggest compliments for his work on behalf of the environment but more for connecting the elements of the IoES gala, dubbed the Champions of Our Planet’s Future. Bender is on the board of advisors alongside such notables as Tony Pritzker, Skydance Media’s Jesse Sisgold, Crossroads Management’s Linda L. Duttenhaver and Morton La Kretz, Sumner Redstone’s former girlfriend Sydney Holland and producer Alexandria Jackson.
Billionaire philanthropist, social entrepreneur and film producer Jeff Skoll also praised Bender from the stage when he received one of the night’s other big honors. Skoll, who founded Participant Media, was introduced by Al Gore, with whom he worked closely on the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. (Bender also produced the 2006 Davis Guggenheim-directed film.) Other honorees Thursday night included (Alphabet billionaire) Eric and Wendy Schmidt.
Skoll, who executive produced this year’s best picture Oscar winner Spotlight, recounted the story of bringing Gore’s global warming slideshow-turned-documentary to the screen, a journey that began in 2005 when he first met Gore and became more familiar with climate issues. “That’s exactly why I created Participant is to get involved in the most important issues in the world and here was a massive issue staring us in the face,” said Skoll, who also noted that Bender had a hand in his marriage to Stephanie Swedlove, as well.
The onetime eBay president then name-checked the team from Inconvenient Truth as well as his host of companies under The Jeff Skoll Group before wrapping up his acceptance speech with environmental optimism. “Our job is by no means done. But I’ve never been more optimistic than with groups of good people like you, and others who are joining the cause everyday. We are well on our way to ensuring that our only home will not only survive but also thrive.”
Applause again filled the room, populated by the likes of Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn, Courteney Cox, Rashida Jones, Rosario Dawson, Maria Bello, David Foster, IoES board chair Tina Quinn, UCLA chancellor Gene Block and IoES director Peter Kareiva. John Salley proved to be an enthusiastic host of the night, which also featured performances by Natasha Bedingfield and Alice Smith. But perhaps not as enthusiastic as Fonda, who surprised attendees when she landed on the lap of a lucky bidder during the live auction.
Eric and Wendy Schmidt pose with Al Gore at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability celebration of the Champions Of Our Planet’s Future in Beverly Hills on March 24. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Courteney Cox, Jane Fonda, Lawrence Bender, David Foster, Alexandria Jackson and IoES director Peter Kareiva attend UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability celebration of the Champions Of Our Planet’s Future in Beverly Hills on March 24. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Ted Sarandos poses with wife Nicole Avant at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability celebration of the Champions Of Our Planet’s Future in Beverly Hills on March 24. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Jeff Skoll is flanked by Lawrence Bender and Al Gore at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability celebration of the Champions Of Our Planet’s Future in Beverly Hills on March 24. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
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