TORONTO — Meryl Streep accepted her TIFF Tribute acting award on Monday with a message for her fellow performers and filmmakers: be mindful of what you send out into the world.
The three-time Oscar winner used her speech at the exclusive fundraiser for the Toronto International Film Festival to reflect on the power of cinema, and how it can affect the discourse, for better or worse.
In explaining how she chooses roles, Streep said for the past decade she has frequently asked herself “does this help or does this hurt?”
“Every artist here has made a choice about the material they’ve done and they’ve decided to contribute — either by default or intention,” she said, before turning to the current social climate.
“Even though we didn’t create the moment we find ourselves in, we can’t cure it individually, we can’t control it, but we sure can contribute to its toxicity.”
At the inaugural TIFF dinner-and-cocktails soiree, Streep praised organizers at the Toronto film festival for showcasing more female directors in their lineup, an effort she called “moving the needle by intention.”
“Time is short, as you reach a certain milestone you realize that, so we should all do the things that count, even if it’s just do have a laugh,” she added.
Fellow actor Joaquin Phoenix later stepped onto the stage to accept his own TIFF Tribute actor award, pausing for a moment to reflect on how his parents and siblings all contributed to his career.
He recalled a pivotal moment in his teenage years, after he’d stopped working as a child actor, when his late brother River Phoenix came home with a VHS copy of Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.”
“He sat me down and made me watch it,” he said.
“The next day he woke me up and made me watch it again. And he said, ‘You’re going to start acting again, this is what you’re going to do. He didn’t ask me, he just told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life.”
Both Phoenix and Streep received their honours on the same night their films screened at the festival.
Phoenix is in town for the North American premiere of “Joker,” a dark comic book origin story where he plays the titular character. The drama picked up the Golden Lion award at the 76th Venice film festival on Saturday and has put Phoenix at the centre of Oscar buzz for his portrayal of a man pushed to the brink.
Streep is showing “The Laundromat,” a Netflix film directed by Steven Soderbergh that dives into the story behind the Panama Papers documents leak.
Other honourees for the evening included New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, whose satire “Jojo Rabbit” tells the tale of a German boy in the Second World War who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. The film includes Waititi playing the boy’s imaginary friend, a cartoonish version of Adolf Hitler.
Waititi received the TIFF Ebert Director Award, named after the late film critic Roger Ebert, as well as the Roger Ebert Golden Thumb award, presented by the critic’s widow Chaz.
After being introduced by fellow director Guillermo del Toro, Waititi launched into an improvised speech loaded with punchlines about growing up in New Zealand.
“We don’t like compliments; they’re very uncomfortable for us, so I really didn’t quite know how to deal with the situation,” Waititi explained from the stage.
“What makes me happy is making Guillermo stand up here while I try to come up with a thank you speech.”
The evening also included a tribute to David Foster, who played several songs be produced with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, accompanied by vocal powerhouses Pia Toscano and Shelea Frazier.
And British cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose career includes “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Blade Runner 2049” and this year’s “The Goldfinch,” reluctantly accepted his TIFF Variety Artisan Award while tipping his hat to his on-set colleagues.
“I don’t feel comfortable being here tonight by myself because I’m usually here with a crew,” he said.
“So many memories, so many movies, and hopefully so many more to come.”
The Toronto film festival runs until Sept. 15.
David Friend ~ The Canadian Press