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October 9, 2007

Eisenstein Award

Celebrating and Honoring the Work of Costa-Gavras

By James Tella

"I am deeply honored to have this award," said internationally celebrated director, screenwriter, and producer Costa-Gavras.
Award-winning director, screenwriter and producer Costa-Gavras was presented with the second-ever Eisenstein Award during the opening reception of a two-day festival of his work at the School of Cinematic Arts on September 28.

Named after the early Russian director and film theorist Sergei Eisenstein—a man who traversed the boundaries of theory and practice and took film into other forms, like language, narrative and musicality—the award has been presented only once before, in 2003 to French filmmaker Agnès Varda.

“The lessons gleaned from sources like our distinguished recipient tonight are what make the difference between a filmmaker and a better filmmaker,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley to the guests gathered in the Norris Theatre, including the director’s wife Michèle Ray-Gavras and daughter Julie Gavras. “He is also an inspiration to generations of women and men who are refining their talent at USC. We are so proud to honor him tonight.”

Internationally celebrated for almost four decades, Costa-Gavras has shone a spotlight on many of the most egregious violations of political and human rights throughout the world. By merging controversial political issues with an acute talent for the thriller genre, the director has repeatedly exposed the injustices of oppressive, violent and corrupt societies that have manifested throughout the 20th century. His breakthrough film, Z (1969), garnered Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Film Editing, in addition to nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

Z captured the attention of audiences worldwide, demonstrating to financiers that films with political themes could be simultaneously provocative and solid box office,” said Associate Dean Michael Renov. “The tautness of the dramas he creates, the compelling performances he elicits from his actors, and the grittiness of the mise-en-scène he composes—it is the extraordinary cinematic realization of these themes that we honor here tonight.”

Costa-Gavras, School of Cinematic Arts Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, and Associate Dean Michael Renov at the two-day festival held in the director's honor.
Echoing the night’s theme of theory and practice, Costa-Gavras said it was always important for him to start from theory and philosophy when approaching his work.

“I am deeply honored to have this award,” he added.

With that, the festival was underway with a screening of Missing (1982) followed by a brief Q&A between the filmmaker and the audience.

On Saturday, the director’s 2005 film The Ax opened the afternoon festivities. The movie was followed by 2002’s Amen, after which Production Professor Jeremy Kagan moderated a panel discussion about political cinema with the director, his wife Michèle, and panelists Professor Steven J. Ross, chair of the USC History department, and Professor John Michalczyk, chair of the Fine Arts department at Boston College and author of Costa-Gavras: The Political Fiction Film.

The weekend concluded that evening with Costa-Gavras introducing his Oscar-winning film Z.