Sarah Polley’s Women Talking features a large ensemble of accomplished and award-winning actresses so it would not have been a surprise to see one (or several) take the stage Thursday at the Palm Springs Film Awards, where Polley was honored with a director of the year prize.
But instead it was Eric Idle, the Monty Python star who presented Polley with her award. His appearance was especially profound for Polley as it provided a public reunion for the two co-stars from Terry Gilliam’s. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. “About 34 years ago, I was on the set of a movie in Rome and I said farewell to a little girl of 8 who starred in the movie,” Idle said. “We had all been scarred on this movie … going on nine months before we’d been able to escape.” Idle called some of the scenes “life threatening.”
It has come to light that the 1988 film was a traumatic experience for many involved and particularly for Polley, who was 8 years old at the time. Based on the picaresque, 18th century tale of an eccentric, over-imaginative German aristocrat, the film is among Gilliam’s most opulent confections, replete with baroque, visibly expensive set pieces.
Polley recounted the behind-the-scenes ordeal in her book, Run Towards the Danger. Polley writes that “blasts of debris exploded on the ground around me, accompanied by deafening booms that made me feel as if I myself had exploded. A log I was to run under was partially on fire. The gigantic blasts continued and shook everything around me. I ran, terrified, straight into the camera, tripping over the dolly tracks. It didn’t seem possible that this could have been the plan, that things hadn’t just gone terribly wrong. But they didn’t. This was the plan.”
Idle said from the stage that they hadn’t seen each other since they left the set until a month and a half ago when Polley “walked through my front door.” She subsequently invited him to the premiere of Women Talkingand he said he had a front row seat to see her grace, generosity and strength of character as she invited the entire ensemble — actors like Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Emily Mitchell, Kate Hallett, Liv McNeil, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Kira Guloien, Shayla Brown, Ben Whishaw and others — to the stage while introducing key members of the crew.
“She knew how to lead,” Idle said. “Women Talking is an incredible piece of work.”
In addition to Polley, Thursday night’s honorees included Cate Blanchett (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress), Viola Davis (Chairman’s Award), Austin Butler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actor), Danielle Deadwyler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actress), Colin Farrell ( Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor), Sarah Polley (Director of the Year Award), Michelle Yeoh (International Star Award, Actress), Bill Nighy (International Star Award, Actor), and The Fabelmans filmmaker Steven Spielberg and his cast (Vanguard Award). Presented by American Express and sponsored by Entertainment Tonight and IHG Hotels & Resorts, the Film Awards ceremony was hosted by ET stars Kevin Frazier and Nischelle Turner.
In accepting, Polley gushed about how much she loves Palm Springs and, in particular, the film festival. (Her Women Talking casting director John Buchan also lives here, she noted.) She loves it so much that she joked that she had longed to crash the Film Awards.
Polley then turned her attention to Idle’s presence by explaining how relevant it is in the context of a night like this one when her film was being honored. Women Talkinginspired by real events and based on the book by Miriam Toews, centers on a group of women in 2010 who come together to discuss their options after learning they have been repeatedly drugged and raped by men in their colony.
Polley said that while there is much harm done in this industry, she called it a “gift” that she and Idle reconnected and he helped validate her experience on that Gilliam film. As Polley talked about focusing her gaze more resolutely on building than destroying, she said having this new bond with Idle delivers more hope than despair. “I think about how many untold stories there are like this one. It goes a long way towards giving me faith.”
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