The 24th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival presented Academy Award winner Helen Hunt with the Spotlight Award at its Awards Gala on Jan. 5 at Palm Springs Convention Center, Palm Springs, Calif. Presented by Cartier, the evening was hosted by TV personality Mary Hart. The Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala also presented awards to the cast of “Argo,” Sally Field, Naomi Watts, composer Mychael Danna, director Robert Zemeckis, director Tom Hooper, Helen Mirren, Bradley Cooper and Richard Gere. The Festival runs January 3-14.
“Few can claim the artistic distinctions of Helen Hunt,” said Film Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “A consummate actress, director, producer and screenwriter, Hunt’s talents are myriad. From her award-winning portrayal of Jamie on ‘Mad About You,’ an iconic character that helped to define a generation, to her work on ‘The She Found Me,’ which was honored at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival, Hunt has demonstrated that the sky’s the limit when it comes to her talents. In her latest film, ‘The Sessions,’ Hunt gives a bravura performance as a therapist with a most delicate task to help a man who has spent his life in an iron lung achieve a most unusual wish – lose his virginity. Because of her sensitivity and grace in this performance, and to recognize a career of continuing achievement, the Palm Springs International Film Festival is proud to present the Spotlight Award to Helen Hunt.”
Past recipients of the Spotlight Award include Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain. Both actresses received Academy Award nominations for their respective years of being presented with this award.
Hunt co-stars in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “The Sessions,” based on the poignantly optimistic autobiographical writings of California–based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien. “The Sessions” tells the story of a man who lived most of his life in an iron lung who is determined – at age 38 – to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality. John Hawkes and William H. Macy also star in a film written for the screen and directed by Ben Levin. “The Sessions” will be released wide on Friday, November 16.
Helen Hunt has enjoyed a diverse career not only as an award-winning actress, but more recently as an accomplished writer, director and producer. Hunt attended the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2008 for the Opening Night screening of her film “Then She Found Me,” which she co-wrote, produced and directed. The film won the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Festival. Her other film credits include “Soul Surfer,” “Bobby,” “As Good As It Gets,” “What Women Want,” “Castaway,” “A Good Woman,” Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women,” “Pay it Forward,” and “Twister.” She most recently completed work on Steven Bernstein’s “Decoding Annie Parker” with Samantha Morton.
Some of Hunt’s television work includes “Mad About You” and the critically acclaimed HBO Miniseries “Empire Falls.” For her role as Jamie Buchman in “Mad About You,” Hunt garnered four Emmy Awards, four Golden Globes (three as lead actress and one as Producer for Best Comedy), and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She also won the Best Actress Award at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the Oscars for her role in the film “As Good As It Gets.”
The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 135,000 attendees each year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The Festival is also known for its annual Black Tie Awards Gala, honoring the best achievements of the filmic year by a celebrated list of talents who, in recent years, have included Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Cate Blanchett, Danny Boyle, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet.
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at SilentHollywood.com