🎥 Auteur filmmaker Spike Lee receives British Film Institute (BFI) Fellowship – highest accolade given by the UK’s leading film institution
🎥 Receives actual award from actor Clive Owen and actors Halle Berry and Samuel L Jackson send video tributes
🎥 In Conversation at BFI Southbank (yesterday) with fashion designer Sir Ozwald Boateng talked about four-decade career
🎥 Tells acv that award is for everyone who has worked with him over four decades
🎥 Spoke towards end of BFI talk about impact of Tyre Nichols and George Floyd deaths. Attended memorial service for Nichols in Memphis
🎥 Felt hurt that Denzel Washington did not get Oscar for role in portraying Malcolm X in 1992 film and told audience about actor’s dedication to the role – practically becoming a Muslim a year ahead of performing
🎥 Joked : “Everything comes back to basketball.”
🎥 Clips of films, Summer of Sam; Jungle Fever; He’s Got Game screened during talk…
ONE OF THE WORLD’S most impactful film directors Spike Lee spoke to www.asianculturevulture. com about his four-long decade in filmmaking just before formally receiving his BFI Fellowship from actor Clive Owen yesterday (February 13).
He told acv he was elated about being made a Fellow. As well as being the highest honour the BFI can bestow on anyone, Lee joins a veritable cast of greats that include India’s Satyajit Ray and Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, as well as own British Sir Steve McQueen.
“I am just happy I got the award, it’s acknowledgement of the body of work I have done over the years, and I am not here alone, filmmaking is a collaborative art form and a whole bunch of people behind the camera are responsible for me being here,” he told acv.
The 65-year-old whose first feature film was the quirky romantic comedy, ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (1986), told acv there wasn’t really a single standout memory.
“There are too many, there isn’t one – I’ve been doing this for 40 odd years. It’s actually the 35th anniversary of my second film, ‘School Daze’ (1988)”.
His debut feature which also has him as an actor (Mars Blackmon) went to the Cannes Film Festival and won a young filmmaker’s award there and helped to launch his career.
He remade ‘She’s Gotta Have it’ as a Netflix series in 2017-9, acting as an executive producer and directing all 19 episodes.
He has had a long association with Cannes and his last film, ‘BlacKkKlansman’ premiered there in 2018 and acv covered it – and in 2021, he served as chairman of the main competition jury.
Lee told acv that he was also honoured to be getting such an accolade and again emphasised the team aspect of filmmaking.
“It’s (the BFI) one of the great institutions of the world supporting cinema and I am happy and elated that I am here not just for me but those who worked on these Spike Lee joints both in front of and behind the camera.”
As well as being as an actor, producer and author (he has co-penned two children’s titles with his wife Tonya Lewis Lee), he is a Professor of Filmmaking and the artistic director at his old film school, the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU).
He has been teaching for around 30 years and will conduct a BFI masterclass with aspiring British filmmakers today (February 14) and also visit the National Film Archive at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
He told acv about what he tells his students on their first day in class.
“You gotta bust your ass – Cinema is no joke, hopefully, you’re here because you love cinema.”
In a wide-ranging and slightly baggy ‘In Conversation’ with British fashion designer Sir Ozwald Boateng, Lee talked about his long life in films and touched on many of his primary themes and concerns.
In the last third, Lee spoke movingly about being in Memphis and comforting members of the Tyre Nichols family. Nichols was set upon by a group of black police officers on January 7 this year, after being pulled over for an alleged traffic violation. He died from injuries inflicted on him on January 10. Later, police video camera footage emerged, showing the five policemen brutally attacking Nichols.
Lee connected this incident to a similar one in which white police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd and was sentenced to more than 20 years in jail for the alleged crime.
Lee said that members of the Floyd family helped to comfort members of the grieving Nichol family.
“That is a group no one wants to be part of,” Lee lamented, saying the ethnicity of the police officers in the Nichols case brought “another dimension” to the death.
Lee has long exposed racism in his films and beyond and has been a champion of equality for all people of colour – he consistently referred to “black and brown people” in his talk yesterday.
He also reflected on his love of basketball and put Denzel Washington’s failure to not get an Oscar for ‘Malcolm X’ (1992) and then winning much later into context, terming it a “call back” –
Washington lost out to Al Pacino for the Best Actor award in 1993. Washington won the Best Actor Award in 2002 for ‘Training Day’.
Lee said he hugely respected Pacino and described him as a “friend”.
“Denzel doesn’t care but I do,” said Lee.
He told the audience that in preparation for the role, Washington told his agent not to take anything on for a year before.
“He stopped eating pork, he said prayers in Arabic.”
At the opening, Lee talked a lot about his early years in Brooklyn and the summer of 1977 and being given a Super 8 camera.
It provided the inspiration for one of his most seminal films,‘Summer of Sam’ (1990) about the serial killer who stalked New York during a brutally hot summer. He didn’t talk a lot about ‘Do The Right Thing’ (1989), another one of his great films and there were no clips screened of it.
There was a short montage of Lee’s films at the end, followed by messages of gratitude from Samuel L Jackson, Edward Norton, Halle Berry, DeWanda Wise and longtime collaborators cinematographer Ernest R Dickerson and costume designer Ruth E Carter.
British filmmakers Asif Kapadia and BFI governor Edgar Wright were in attendance too.
Actor Clive Owens, who appears in Lee’s ‘Inside Man’ (2006) which memorably opens with the AR Rahman track, ‘Chaiya Chaiya’, made a short presentation speech, reminding people that when Lee first burst onto the scene, not everyone admired his style.
“Fearless, unapologetic with bags of attitude, humour and intelligence He scared people, he was a true trailblazer,” said Owen. He recounted an anecdote about going to New York to meet Lee to talk about his role in ‘Inside Man’ and being entertained by him at a New York Knicks game and only at the very end of the evening, Lee asking him whether he would take the lead part.
Tim Richards, BFI Chair, said he had first encountered Lee through his debut film when living in the US.
He called Lee, “a true renaissance man and pioneer, he has excelled in so many art forms staying original, fresh and as relevant to contemporary audiences as those who have enjoyed his work for over thirty years”.
Yesterday, Ben Roberts, BFI CEO, told acv that there is a process in considering filmmakers for a BFI Fellowship.
“It’s a very high bar. It is for the greats like Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa. It is mysterious,” he chuckled.“There are ongoing conversations across the cultural teams and the BFI governors. We share longlists with them and shortlist people we love and the rest is serendipitous – it started in 1985 and there are around two a year.”
Roberts added about Lee’s Fellowship: “It’s brilliant. It means a lot for us to have him here and do a public talk and visit the National Archive and conduct the Masterclass and really engage with the work he has done.”
Main picture: Clive Owen, Tim Robbins, Spike Lee, Ben Roberts, Sir Ozwald Boateng
To see the presentation of the BFI Fellowship by Clive Owen and his speech, please click here.
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