“It’s a quarter of a century later, and I’m still f*cking being discovered by Sundance,” beamed Christopher Nolan tonight at the Sundance Film Festival Opening Night Gala as he received the inaugural Trailblazer award.
“At what point do I move onto bigger things?” the acclaimed Oppenheimer filmmaker cracked.
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The wrap-up remark was made as Nolan told the story about how Comcast Universal boss Brian Roberts shared the filmmaker and his producer wife Emma Thomas post Oppenheimer‘s immediate greenlight how he caught their movie Memento by chance at Sundance during a ski trip back in 2001 with the father and the impact it had on him.
Nolan says that Thomas and he were “caught in a moment of reflection.”
Earlier in the evening, Oppenheimer star and Nolan pal Robert Downey Jr. also had the crowd roaring with a plethora of anecdotes about the filmmaker. The Avengers actor told the well-heeled audience of donors agents, actors, producers, and other award recipients about how Nolan hated that his newfound fame this awards season has led him to be “recognized in the street.”
Downey Jr. also really got the crowd rocking when he relayed an almost confidential remark from Nolan on the awards circuit in recent weeks. The recent Golden Globe winner said how Nolan leaned over to him at one event and whispered his worry about “death by schmoozing.”
The filmmaker “never comprised” during filming, asserted Oppenheimer star Robert Downey Jr while introducing the director Thursday night.
In his own remarks Nolan pondered what it means to be a filmmaker in the modern world, independent or “a cog in the machine.”
While he began as an independent filmmaker, Nolan confessed, “I don’t think you can be.”
“Painters can be independent, poets,” he continued.
“As filmmakers, we’re so dependent on other people,” meaning all the below-the-line departments as well as the distribution apparatus which gets commercial art out to the globe.
He further expounded on how Memento came to be the cult hit coming out of its Park City debut.
“Nobody wanted the film,” Nolan told the room. He gave props to the pic’s EP Aaron Ryder, who was in the room, as well as WME Managing Partner Dan Aloni, and Bob Berney who self distributed the movie. Also the late Stuart Cornfeld, “who helped us get our film out for no reason whatsoever, he had no involvement in the film”. It was Ben Stiller’s producer who introduced Nolan to Steven Soderbergh, who produced the filmmaker’s next studio title.
Along with Nolan, Kristen Stewart received the Visionary Award were also given recognition at the gala this evening.
Festival benefactor Pat Mitchell was lauded with the Vanguard Award for Philanthropy.
Documentary filmmaker Maite Alberdi (The Eternal Memory) received the Vanguard Award presented by Acura for Nonfiction. Also Past Lives filmmaker Celine Song (Past Lives) was honored with the Vanguard Award presented by Acura – Fiction.
Tonight’s honor comes on the heels of Oppenheimer cleaning up at the BAFTA noms, as well as Best Picture wins at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice, in addition to being touted as the frontrunner in the Oscar race.
The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 18-28.
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