Voight leads tribute to director Ashby

Bradenton Herald – The Sarasota Film Festival’s Filmmakers Tribute was a lively evening of laughter, tears and celebration of film.

The event, held Saturday at the Sarasota Opera House, brought members of the community and Hollywood together — many of whom paid tribute to the late director Hal Ashby, who was honored with the 2009 Master of Cinema Award.

In attendance were actors Jon Voight, Steve Buscemi, Bill Paxton and Burt Young. The tribute was hosted by actor Stanley Tucci, who kept the audience laughing. Tucci, who attended last year’s festival, even poked fun at being heckled last year by an animated fan.

A special film retrospective was shown of Ashby’s life in the movies. Many of the festival’s Hollywood guests were in the piece. They spoke of their experiences working with the award-winning director and the impressions his films made.

He was a man who was caring, fun and broke ground by highlighting taboo issues of war, race and sexuality, they said. But he also produced films that celebrated laughter and life. Ashby died from pancreatic cancer in 1988.

“What do I know of Hal Ashby?” Paxton told the crowd as he introduced the retrospective. “I know he died too young. I know he made some of the most beloved films of my generation. Films that would live on.”

After the the film tribute, which highlighted many of Ashby’s works, festival programming director Tom Hall hosted a panel with those who were touched by the filmmaker. Panel guests were Voight, Young, Dianne Schroeder and Nick Dawson, the author of the biography “Being Hal Ashby: The Life of a Hollywood Star.”

Voight and Young joked back and forth on stage as old friends. Both worked in Ashby’s 1982 movie, “Lookin’ To Get Out.”

“I really cared for Hal Ashby,” said Young, who also starred in the “Rocky” films. ”But who I most care for is Jon. Jon, from the beginning, was a bright, brilliant professional. And he liked me … I met Hal through Jon.”

Seeing Friday night’s world premiere of Ashby’s director’s cut of “Lookin’ to Get Out” at the festival moved both Young and Voight. It cleared past hurts for Voight, who felt Ashby didn’t get the recognition he deserved with the film. Those hurts, he said, getting choked up, were “completely washed away — all the wounds, (Friday) night.”

Ashby’s daughter, Leigh MacMannus, accepted the tribute award on his behalf. Screening her father’s films gave her a chance to get to know him, she said. “For me, they were gifts of himself,” she told the crowd.

“I just know somehow my dad is somehow here with us, enjoying this moment,” she said.

Before the event was underway, film festival president Mark Famligio told the audience that the festival, which ends today, has been better than he expected this year. He said expectations were low because of the economy. “(It) exceeded performance for all past years in nearly all categories,” he said.

The Hollywood guests — many of whom were past guests of the festival — acknowledged how great it was to be back in Sarasota. “This is becoming one of our favorite festivals,” Tucci said.

Ashby rose to fame in the 1970s, directing hit films that included “The Landlord” and “Coming Home.” In them, he showed the ups and downs of the human experience. He won his first Academy Award in 1967 for best editing for Norman Jewison’s film, “In the Heat of the Night.”

Newly added to the film festival schedule is Ashby’s final film, “8 Million Ways To Die.” It will be screened at 7:15 p.m. today at the Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., Sarasota.

The festival’s closing night film, “Every Little Step” — a behind-the-scenes look at the success of Broadway’s “Chorus Line” — is at 5 and 7 p.m. today at the Hollywood 20. Both screenings are sold out.

Rush tickets are available.

published April 5, 2009

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