Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, on Saturday night announced a new initiative called The Academy Talent Development and Inclusion Program as she welcomed guests to the eighth annual Governors Awards, held at Hollywood & Highland's Ray Dolby Ballroom.
The evening's honorees, all of whom were presented with honorary Oscars, included actor/dynamo Jackie Chan, film editor Anne V. Coates, casting director Lynn Stalmaster and documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. "We honor them for they have touched us beyond measure, but we do so knowing that one day they will hand the baton to other remarkable talents," said Boone Isaacs.
She used the occasion to underline the importance of nurturing new talent, underscoring that "at the Academy, we are committed to empowering that next generation of creative talent and ensuring that next generation represents the real face of America and the world."
Boone Isaacs has made encouraging diversity among filmmakers a hallmark of her tenure as Academy president and reiterated that goal, saying that inclusion "is a strategic imperative for our industry."
She continued that despite how some of the Academy's efforts have been characterized in the press, it's about "names, not just numbers ... bringing new faces and voices into the room and making sure they are heard and seen. It's about change from top to bottom."
To that end, Boone Isaacs said the Academy has brought together other members of the industry from studios, distributors, guild and production companies to create the new talent development program.
The program, set to launch in the spring, is described as a "multi-tiered educational and experiential initiative" designed to offer interns access to Academy members, industry professionals and education. According to a statement from the Academy, "this initiative will ultimately cement, strengthen and clarify long-standing, but independent efforts to address concerns of accessibility and opportunity for under-represented communities throughout our country."
The program, to which the Academy has already committed $250,000, will begin with eight-week summer educational and networking internships for college students (both undergraduate and graduate). Participating organizations will be asked to sponsor at least two interns as the Academy aims to serve 50 interns in the first year of the program.
Boone Isaacs stressed that the Academy's commitment to inclusion is ongoing, saying, "We're not to the mountain top yet, but we can see the peak up ahead."
In her introductory remarks, the Academy president also alluded to the recent presidential election by saying of movies, "in uncertain times, they can connect us, change us and unify us."
And with that, the evening turned to honoring the remarkable careers of four pioneers in the film business.
The celebration kicked off with a historic gesture in terms of Academy history: Stalmaster became the first casting director to ever receive an Oscar, and the casting directors in the room, who weren't recognized with their own branch within the Academy until 2013, cheered the loudest.
David Rubin - who represents casting directors on the board, and who was pulling double-duty by producing the evening and who counts Stalmaster as his former boss and mentor - said that Stalmaster's example proved "being a success in Hollywood and being a mensch are not mutually exclusive."
Stalmaster - who after a brief stint as an actor began his career as a casting director working in TV on shows like Gunsmoke - has during the course of his long career cast actors who have received 36 Oscar nominations and taken home 11 wins.
The father-daughter team of Bruce and Laura Dern paid tribute to him. Laura Dern recalled how, when she was just 9 years old and meeting Stalmaster for the first time, he advised her to take a few years to discover who she was before pursuing a career. "What an extraordinary gift you gave all of us in helping us find our way," she said. And her father testified that Stalmaster "gave me and my entire generation the opportunity to dare to dream," adding "You, Lynn Stalmaster, changed an industry."
Jeff Bridges presented the award to Stalmaster, calling him "the master-caster," and Stalmaster, after offering his thanks, responded, "My career has never been boring or lacking in surprises."
Michael Tronick, from the film editors' branch, kicked off the adulation for Coates, who also drew praise from Nicole Kidman, who said, "Anne V. Coates is not a great female editor - she is a great, great editor."
Coates, who previously won an Oscar for her work on Lawrence of Arabia, also was lauded by Richard Gere, who appeared in the 2002 film Unfaithful, which she cut. "As actors," he said of the moment he saw the finished movie, "we pray that that editor understood what we were trying to do. I thanked god for Anne Coates that day, because she understood the characters, the mysterious emotions that human beings have." Said Coates as she accepted the award, "I feel so lucky to have had this wonderful life and a job I love," noting that it had the side benefit of allowing her to gaze into the eyes of a long line of hunky actors from George Clooney to, most recently, Fifty Shades of Grey's Jamie Dornan.
Documentary branch board member Rory Kennedy introduced the section of the evening devoted to Wiseman, the prolific, documentary filmmaker, noting that his "observational style has had an impact far beyond documentary films."
Sir Ben Kingsley observed that as part of his research for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, he watched Wiseman's first film, 1967's Titicut Follies, which exposed horrendous conditions in a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane and was banned from general release for 24 years.
Accepting the honorary Oscar from Don Cheadle, who spoke of the director's "deep empathy for his fellow man," Wiseman, describing himself as "a New England Jewish Puritan," said, "What's kept me going is it's fun and an adventure." Explaining that humor can be found even in grim circumstances, he recounted how while filming Near Death, a doc about terminally ill patients, he visited with the director of a hospital morgue, who, as they were saying goodbye, said to Wiseman, "See you soon!" And, with a twinkle in his eye, Wiseman concluded, "Thank you, and see you soon!"
Tom Hanks, a governor representing the actors' branch, was called upon to begin the testimonials on behalf of Chan, and, with his usual playfulness, he hailed the Hong Kong-born performer as "the man who puts the Chan in Chan-tastic!" On a more serious note, Hanks noted that in his more dramatic roles, Chan could be considered another John Wayne, while in his many action comedies, he's a veritable Buster Keaton.
Michelle Yeoh, who has appeared onscreen with Chan, praised him as "a generous performer," but admitted when it came to doing stunts, he was very competitive with her, constantly looking to outdo her.
Chris Tucker, who co-starred with Chan in the Rush Hour movies, added that "working with a living legend was amazing."
Chan expressed his own amazement that he was receiving an honorary Oscar, and after offering his thanks to the Academy, didn't leave the stage without also adding, "My thanks to all my fans around the world."