Filmmaker Sayles wins LEAF Award
Filmmaker John Sayles has won numerous awards but never before for environmentalism.
Sayles, a novelist and filmmaker known for producing movies outside Hollywood studios, was awarded the 2012 Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts Award Saturday. Bill Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, led the ceremony that featured selections from Sayles’ films and a reading from his latest novel.
“[Sayles’ films] range from the allegorical to the historical, from the comic to the tragic,” Chameides said. “But through them all runs a common environmental thread with a profoundly important message not on the fragility of nature but of the power of nature.”
Established in 2009, the LEAF Award is given to artists whose work inspires others to take action to protect and steward the environment, Chameides said. Past recipients are actor and filmmaker Robert Redford, musician Jackson Browne and author Barbara Kingsolver.
When Chameides called Sayles to notify him that he received the award, Sayles’ only response was, “Why me?”
Chameides noted, however, that Sayles’ work represents the sort of lifetime of artistic achievement that the LEAF Award recognizes.
Referring to Sayles as a consummate storyteller, Chameides highlighted four key aspects in his work that have elicited ethical questions regarding the environment—characters, idea, conflict and emotion. Playing clips of Sayles’ films to the audience, Chameides showed the unique role the environment has in driving Sayles’ stories forward, such as the emotionally imbued beach in “Sunshine State.” In this film, Sayles relays the emotional attachment people have to their environment and their willingness to protect it.
The award ceremony began with bluegrass music performed by the Jon Shain Trio who wrote an original song for the event, “Luckier Than Most.” The student Latin dance group, Sabrosura, performed as well to honor the Latin American focus in many of Sayles’ films.
Ariel Dorfman, Walter Hines Page professor of literature and Latin American studies and a Chilean-American writer, discussed the history of the award and its unique quality of honoring the way the natural world and humanities interact.
“It’s not enough for an artist to applicate to the environment or for an environmentalist to have worked as an artist,” Dorfman said. “The award is given to an artist whose work has lifted the human spirit and has conveyed our profound spiritual and material connection to the earth, thereby inspiring others to help forward a more sustainable future for all.”
After receiving his award, Sayles read a portion of his new novel “A Moment in the Sun,” noting that he hopes his book will prompt his readers to question authority. He said his aim is to inspire others to continue questioning what they have read until they get to the real version of the story.
“The next thing after questioning is to say, ‘even if this is true, is this right?’” Sayles said. “You may have an abstract moral equation... but very rarely do we stop to ask that question.”