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Award Recipients

2015 Award Recipients

Outstanding Television Writer: Norman Lear

Austin Film Festival is thrilled to announce  Norman Lear as the recipient of the “Outstanding Television Writer” Award at the 22nd annual Austin Film Festival, this October 29 – November 5.

Norman Lear has enjoyed a long career in television and film, and as a political and social activist and philanthropist.

Mr. Lear began his television writing career in 1950 when he and his partner, Ed Simmons, were signed to write for The Ford Star Revue, starring Jack Haley. After only four shows, they were hired away by Jerry Lewis to write for him and Dean Martin on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where they worked until the end of 1953.  They then spent two years on The Martha Raye Show, after which Mr. Lear worked on his own for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and The George Gobel Show.

In 1958, Mr. Lear teamed with director Bud Yorkin to form Tandem Productions.  Together they produced several feature films, with Mr. Lear taking on roles as executive producer, writer, and director. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1967 for his script for Divorce American Style. In 1970, CBS signed with Tandem to produce All in the Family, which first aired on January 12, 1971 and ran for nine seasons. It earned four Emmy Awards for Best Comedy series as well as the Peabody Award in 1977. All in the Family was followed by a succession of other television hit shows including Maude, Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

Concerned about the growing influence of radical religious evangelists, Mr. Lear decided to leave television in 1980 and formed People For the American Way, a non-profit organization designed to speak out for Bill of Rights guarantees and to monitor violations of constitutional freedoms. People For remains an influential and effective voice for freedom.

Mr. Lear’s business career continued in 1982, when Tandem Productions and his other company,T.A.T. Communications, were folded into Embassy Communications, which was sold in 1985. He then created and is currently chairman of Act III Communications, a multimedia holding company with interests in television, motion pictures, and licensing.

In addition to People for the American Way, Mr. Lear has founded other nonprofit organizations, including the Business Enterprise Trust (1989- 2000), which spotlighted exemplary social innovations in American business; the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication (2000-present), a multidisciplinary research and public policy center dedicated to exploring the convergence of entertainment, commerce and society; and with his wife, Lyn, co-founded the Environmental Media Association (1989-present), to mobilize the entertainment industry to become more environmentally responsible.

In 1999, President Clinton bestowed the National Medal of Arts on Mr. Lear, noting that “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.” He also has the distinction of being among the first seven television pioneers inducted in 1984 into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

In 2001, Lyn and Norman Lear purchased one of the few surviving original copies of the Declaration of Independence. During the decade that they owned it, they shared it with the American people by touring it to all 50 states.  As part of this Declaration of Independence Road Trip, Mr. Lear launched Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan youth voter initiative that registered well over four million new young voters in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections.

Mr. Lear is married to Lyn Davis Lear and resides in Los Angeles, California. He has six children: Ellen, Kate, Maggie, Benjamin, Brianna, and Madeline, and four grandchildren: Daniel, Noah, Griffin, and Zoe.

Mr. Lear’s memoir, Even This I Get To Experience, was published in October 2014 by The Penguin Press.

Distinguished Screenwriter: Brian Helgeland


We are pleased to announce our 2015 Distinguished Screenwriter, Brian Helgeland!

Brian Helgeland was born in 1961 in Providence, Rhode Island.  He was raised mainly in New Bedford, Massachusetts where his family made their living in that city’s fishing industry.  After somehow receiving an undergraduate degree in English, Brian took a site as a ‘half-share’ man on the fishing vessel Mondego II. A chance meeting with a book entitled “A Guide To Film School” changed everything.  Ignorant as to the existence of such venerable institutions, Brian applied to several and was accepted by one.  Giving up his now “full-share” berth on the fishing vessel Concordia, Brian headed west in 1985.

Thirty years later he has found himself in possession of nineteen feature film writing credits. He is also a film director. Among the films he has written and directed are Legend starring Tom Hardy & Emily Browning,  42 starring Chadwick Boseman & Harrison Ford, A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger & Paul Bettany and Payback starring Mel Gibson. As a straight screenwriter, his writing credits include Curtis Hanson’s  L.A Confidential starring Russell Crowe, Tony Scott’s Man on Fire & The Taking of Pelham 123 both starring Denzel Washington, Richard Donner’s Conspiracy Theory starring Mel Gibson & Julia Roberts, Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone starring Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work and Mystic River for which he received an Academy Award nomination and for which stars Sean Penn & Tim Robbins both won the Oscar.

Helgeland is also the recipient himself of the Academy Award, the Writers Guild of America Award, the PEN Center Literary Award, the Edgar Alan Poe Award, a two time recipient of the USC Scriptor Award and the Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment.

Extraordinary Contribution to Film – Actor: Chris Cooper

We are excited to announce our 2015 Extraordinary Contribution to Film – Actor, Chris Cooper!

One of the most respected character actors of our time, Chris Cooper was recognized in 2003 with an Academy Award® and a Golden Globe Award® for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of ‘John Laroche’ in Columbia Pictures’ Adaptation written by Charlie Kauffman (Being John Malkovich) and directed by Spike Jonze.  Cooper was also recognized for his performance in the film by numerous critics associations including the Broadcast Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Toronto Film Critics Association.

Cooper has a multitude of upcoming projects beginning with Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Namoi Watts, and follows an investment banker struggling to understand his emotional disconnect after the tragic death of his wife. The screenplay is written by Bryan Sipe and the film will be released by Fox Searchlight at the end of 2015. The film premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Following Demolition, Cooper will portray the great American author, J.D. Salinger, in Coming Through the Rye. Written and directed by James Steven Sadwith, the coming of age story is set in 1969 and follows 16 yr. old Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff) who believes he is destined to play Holden Caulfield. He then goes on a journey to seek out the infamously reclusive author.

Cooper will also be seen in the Hulu original mini-series created by J.J. Abrams and based on Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63, about an English teacher (James Franco) going back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cooper co-stars as ‘Al Templeton,’ the eccentric owner of a local diner which houses the portal to go back in time, in the nine-hour event series.

At the end of 2015, Chris Cooper will appear in the David O. Russell drama Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Joy was written by O. Russell and Annie Mumolo and will be released by Fox on December 25th.

Last year, Cooper was seen in the role of  ‘Harry Osbourne’s’ father, ‘Norman Osbourne,’ in the Columbia Pictures sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opposite Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released on May 4th, 2014 and was directed by Marc Webb.

In 2013, Cooper appeared in John Wells’ film adaptation of the hit Broadway play August: Osage County. Cooper co-starred opposite Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor as ‘Charles Aiken,’ the brother-in-law to Streep’s ‘Violet.’ The Weinstein Company released the film about a strong willed family brought together by a crisis on December 25th, 2013. The film was nominated for a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture as well as a Broadcast Critics Choice Association Award for Best Acting Ensemble, amongst other honors.

In 2013, Cooper also appeared in Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep as ‘David Sloan,’ the hesitant brother of a member of the 1970’s radical group, Weather Underground. The Company You Keep was released on April 5th, 2013 by Sony Classics.

In 2011, Cooper appeared in the Walt Disney Pictures film, The Muppets, as the villain, ‘Tex Richman’ and in 2010, Cooper co-starred in The Company Men with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones.  Written and directed by John Wells, The Company Men centered on three men who were struggling to survive corporate downsizing.  The Company Men premiered in the US at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Also in 2010, Cooper co-starred in Julie Taymor’s version of The Tempest alongside Djimon Hounsou and Helen Mirren as ‘Antonio.’  Also in 2010, Cooper appeared in Allen Coulter’s romantic drama Remember Me, with Robert Pattinson, Pierce Brosnan and Emilie de Ravin for Summit Entertainment.  Remember Me revolved around two lovers whose newfound relationship is threatened as they try to cope with their respective family tragedies.

In addition to The Tempest and Remember Me, Cooper appeared in the Warner Brothers feature film The Town in 2010 alongside Ben Affleck, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall.  The Town premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010 and was subsequently nominated for a Broadcast Film Critics’ Choice Award, an AFI Award and a National Board of Review Award. The film was also honored by numerous film societies.

In October 2009, Cooper was featured in the drama New York, I Love You, a collaboration of vignettes created by some of today’s most imaginative filmmakers including Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Brett Ratner and Allen Hughes.  Cooper starred alongside Robin Wright Penn, Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q in a storyline written and directed by Yvan Attal.  Also in October 2009, Cooper voiced ‘Douglas’ in the big screen adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story  Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze and screenplay by Dave Eggers.

In 2007, Cooper starred alongside Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman in the Universal film The Kingdom.  Directed by Peter Berg, The Kingdom tells the story of a team of U.S. government agents sent to investigate the bombing of an American facility in the Middle East.  In the fall of 2007, Cooper starred with Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, and Rachel McAdams in Married Life for Sony Classics, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was also accepted into the New York Film Festival.

Earlier in 2007, Cooper starred in the Universal Pictures film Breach, playing the title role of ‘Robert Hanssen,’ a renowned operative for the FBI who was found guilty of spying for the Russians.  Cooper received extraordinary praise from movie critics around the country for his deft performance.  The film was directed by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and co-starred Ryan Phillipe.

In 2006, Cooper had strong supporting roles in Sony Classics’ Capote, Universal’s Jarhead for director Sam Mendes and Warner Bros.’ Syriana, for writer and director Stephen Gaghan.

In 2005, Cooper re-teamed with director and friend John Sayles in New Market Film’s Silver City, a political drama and murder mystery which chronicled the story of a small town in Colorado and the events leading up to a local election.  The impressive cast included Maria Bello, Thora Birch, Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Roth, Daryl Hannah and Billy Zane.  The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

In 2003, Cooper starred in the Universal Pictures film, Seabiscuit based on the best-selling novel.  Cooper was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for his portrayal of Seabiscuit’s trainer, ‘Tom Smith.’  Seabiscuit was directed by Gary Ross and also starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges.  In the same year, Cooper was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting performance in the HBO film My House in Umbria starring Maggie Smith.

In 2002, Cooper was seen in The Bourne Identity for Universal Pictures as the mastermind of the CIA’s controversial clandestine operation, ‘Treadstone.’  In 2004, he appeared in the flashback scenes in the second installment, The Bourne Supremacy.

In 2000, Cooper portrayed ‘Colonel Burwell’ opposite Mel Gibson in Sony Pictures’ The Patriot, a Revolutionary War epic directed by Roland Emmerich.  In the same year, Cooper appeared with Jim Carey in the comedy Me, Myself and Irene, for directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly.

In 1999, Cooper received a Screen Actors Guild Award for his supporting performance alongside Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in Dreamworks’ Academy Award winning film, American Beauty. In a stunning and dramatic display, Cooper portrayed a stern ex-Marine Colonel who persistently monitored his son’s every move.

In 1999, Cooper also starred as the father of an amateur rocket enthusiast in the acclaimed coming-of-age drama October Sky, which was screened at the 1999 Venice and Deauville Film Festivals with great notice.  He had previously earned a Best Actor nomination in 1997 from the Independent Spirit Awards for his work in John Sayles’ Lone Star.  Nearly a decade earlier, Cooper made his feature film debut in Sayles’ Matewan.

Among his other film credits are Robert Redford’s The Horse WhispererGreat ExpectationsA Time to KillMoney TrainThis Boy’s LifeGuilty by Suspicion and City of Hope.

On the small screen, he has had roles in a number of longform projects, including the miniseries Lonesome Dove and Return to Lonesome Dove. Cooper starred in HBO’s Breast Men, and includes among his other credits Alone, One More Mountain, Ned Blessing, Bed of Lies, Darrow, In Broad Daylight, A Little Piece of Sunshine, Law and Order and Journey to Genius.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Cooper attended the University Of Missouri School of Drama and started his professional career on the New York stage.  His theater credits include Of the Fields Lately on Broadway, The Ballad of Soapy Smith and A Different Moon.

Cooper resides in Massachusetts with his wife.

Extraordinary Contribution to Film: John Singleton


We are elated to announce our 2015 Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking awardee, John Singleton!

John Singleton grew up in South Central Los Angeles and his work as a film director, producer, and screenwriter frequently depicts these turbulent, often violent roots. He studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, winning three writing awards from the university, which lead to a contract with Creative Artists Agency during his sophomore year.

In 1991, Columbia Pictures bought his script for Boyz n the Hood. The film portrayed life in crime-ridden South Central LA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in 1991, making Singleton the first African-American and the youngest person ever nominated for the award. The film also garnered a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Singleton followed the win with Poetic Justice in 1993 and Higher Learning in 1995. Subsequent works include 1997’s historical drama Rosewood, 2000’s Shaft remake starring Samuel L. Jackson, and 2001’s Baby Boy. In 2005, he produced the critically acclaimed indie film Hustle & Flow and directed the box office hit Four Brothers. Additional credits include directing 2 Fast 2 Furious, Abduction, and the episode “Dangerous Bonds” on Empire.

Singleton is currently developing Snowfall, an original TV series for FX, set in LA in the early 80s amidst the infancy of the cocaine epidemic.

Past Award Recipients

Distinguished Screenwriter Award

  • 2014 Jim Sheridan
  • 2013 Callie Khouri
  • 2012 Eric Roth
  • 2011 Caroline Thompson
  • 2010 David Peoples
  • 2009 Steve Zaillian
  • 2007 John Milius
  • 2006 Shane Black
  • 2005 Harold Ramis
  • 2004 Barry Levinson
  • 2003 Frank Pierson
  • 2002 Richard LaGravenese
  • 2001 Lawrence Kasdan
  • 2000 Paul Mazursky
  • 1999 James L. Brooks
  • 1998 Paul Schrader
  • 1997 Buck Henry
  • 1996 Bill Wittliff
  • 1995 Horton Foote

Outstanding Television Writer Award

  • 2014 Matthew Weiner
  • 2013 Vince Gilligan
  • 2012 Chris Carter
  • 2011 Hart Hanson
  • 2010 David Simon
  • 2009 Mitch Hurwitz
  • 2008 Greg Daniels
  • 2007 Glenn Gordon Caron
  • 2006 David Milch
  • 2005 Mike Judge
  • 2004 Garry Shandling
  • 2003 Tom Fontana
  • 2002 Darren Star
  • 2001 Gary David Goldberg
  • 2000 David Chase

Extraordinary Contribution to Film Award

  • 2014 Edward Zwick
  • 2013 Jonathan Demme
  • 2012 Frank Darabont
  • 2011 John Lasseter
  • 2010 Robert Rodriguez
  • 2009 Ron Howard
  • 2008 Danny Boyle
  • 2007 Oliver Stone
  • 2006 Sydney Pollack

Extraordinary Contribution to Film Award (Acting)

  • 2013 Susan Sarandon
  • 2011 Johnny Depp

Heart of Film Award

  • 2013 Barry Josephson