The National Board of Review celebrated the best and brightest cinema of the year at its Annual Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. Willie Geist emceed the evening and was joined by an extraordinary group of the entertainment industry’s most revered.
Winners included Kathy Bates (Best Supporting Actress: Richard Jewell); Roger Deakins (Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography; 1917); Bonnie Arnold, Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis (Best Animated Feature; How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World); Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Frank Oz (Best Ensemble; Knives Out); Paul Walter Hauser (Breakthrough Performance: Richard Jewell); Tracy Edwards, Alex Holmes (Best Documentary: Maiden); Bong Joon-ho (Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite); Melina Matsoukas (Best Directorial Debut: Queen & Slim); Brad Pitt (Best Supporting Actor: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood); Adam Sandler (Best Actor: Uncut Gems); Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein (Best Original Screenplay: Uncut Gems); Quentin Tarantino (Best Director: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood); Steven Zaillian (Best Adapted Screenplay: The Irishman); Renée Zellweger (Best Actress: Judy); Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino (NBR Icon Award); Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts (NBR Freedom of Expression Award; For Sama); and Asher Goldstein, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Bryan Stevenson, (NBR Freedom of Expression Award; Just Mercy).
Check out our exclusive red carpet interviews below:
The Knockturnal: Introduce yourself please and your role in the movie.
Edward Watts: I’m Edward Watts, I’m the co-director of For Sama.
Waad Al-Kateab: I’m Waad Al-Kateab, I’m the other director and the cinematographer and the producer too.
Hamza Al-Khateab: I’m Hamza Al-Khateab, the subject of the film.
The Knockturnal: What does it mean to have the film recognized here today?
Waad Al-Kateab: It’s a great platform. We are so honored to have the Freedom of Expression award today. And we just walked through the red carpet and we raised our message again about stop bombing hospitals and that’s why we are here, that’s why For Sama was already created.
The Knockturnal: How did the subject matter come to you or what inspired you to make it?
Edward Watts: Well, these are the subject matter who filmed their own lives and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to them after the tragic events in the film had finished. Because where it had filmed, I have 500 hours of material; everyone wanted to turn it into a piece of cinema with the widest audience and so they thought because they knew how much I care about what’s happened in Syria, I’d be the right person to collaborate with her to tell their story in the best way.
The Knockturnal: Is there anything you wanted to add about making this film and being a part of it?
Hazma Al-Khateab: I want to highlight that the situation is still happening at the moment in Syria, that the Syrian conflict is not over. It’s not only about the refugee crisis or ISIS, everything is still happening; all the attacks, the bombings, the displacement, it’s still happening at the moment. And that’s why we feel like this film gives us a great platform to talk and shed the light and bring more awareness of the situation that’s happening now in Syria.
The Knockturnal: And where are you currently based now?
Waad Al-Kateab: We live now in London. We just got asylum one year and a half ago and we’re just traveling now for the film.
The Knockturnal: And what do you hope to do next?
Waad Al-Kateab: I have some ideas to start developing our new documentary. We also have one project, a fiction story, about the same film but in a different way. That’s what we are trying to do now.
The Knockturnal: So, tell me what it means to be honored here today.
Tracy Edwards: Well, this is not my world but I am incredibly proud of Alex and everyone at New Black Films for making such an extraordinary documentary that has been honored here by some of the most important people in Alex’s industry and I’m just happy to be here and be part of it.
The Knockturnal: And what has it been like to travel with the film and promote it? What has that experience been like?
Tracy Edwards: More scary than sailing around Cape Horn, I have to tell you … It’s been phenomenal and beyond my wildest dreams when I first met Alex and he said he wanted to make a documentary about what we’ve done, so it’s been amazing.
The Knockturnal: I feel like there is still a gender imbalance in these sports. So, what are we doing to move the needle forward?
Tracy Edwards: We’ve rescued Maiden and we’re sailing around the world again. Alex is making Maiden: The Sequel. And so we are sailing around the world to raise money and awareness for empowering girls for education. But what we’re also doing is just spreading the message that enough is enough. Girls have proved what they can do. Women have proved what they can do. And we’re out there to remind people that A—we did this 30 years ago. And you know enough is enough and we want to see change, and we want to see it now.
The Knockturnal: Is there anything you’d like to add about being honored here today and the sequel?
Alex Holmes: Well obviously it’s great on a personal level to be recognized by such an august body as the National Board of Review. But what I really hope is getting awards like this and recognition like this encourages more people to see the film because ultimately, I made it to inspire people, to share the feeling that I had the first time I heard Tracy tell this story; the feeling that maybe if you believe in yourself a little bit more and if you push yourself a little bit harder and you show that dedication, great things can be achieved. And I think the more people will hear that story and the more people will take a little bit home with them at the end of the movie, the world will be a better place. So that’s what I hope this award does, is encourages people to get out there and see this film in whatever way they can.
The Knockturnal: And when do you start filming the sequel?
Tracy Edwards: We’re doing it now.
Alex Holmes: The sequel is always an ongoing thing. Tracy’s adventure has really taken a big leap forward with The Maiden Factor, the project that she’s now running, which is a huge and encouraging enterprise that is dedicated to improving girls’ education and awareness of the importance of girls’ education around the world. And that’s just a fantastic thing to be supporting and I think that the story of what Tracy did next was always gonna be interesting. It’s gonna make a great film.
The Knockturnal: So, tell me, what does this honor mean to you today?
Roger Deakins: Well it’s nice the film has been recognized. It’s not me personally. I’m just really pleased that the film’s getting talked about and seen, you know?
The Knockturnal: And so how did you come to the project? Did Sam call you or what were those initial conversations like?
Roger Deakins: Yeah, Sam called me and just said he was thinking of doing a film that was set during World War I, “would I read this script?” And then he sent me the script and the front page of the script said, “… and this is envisioned as a single shot” and then I went “oh my God,” I didn’t know what I was in for.
The Knockturnal: So, tell me when you saw this script and the concept, what was your next steps in sort of visualizing it?
Roger Deakins: Well once I read the script, I could understand pretty well what he was trying to get at. And then we spent weeks just talking through it and trying to visualize … “is the camera just gonna be behind the characters all the time walking down the trench? No.” And then we started just talking ideas, how we were gonna move the camera, how we were gonna visualize the story within the confines of one shot and use that to our advantage. So, it was a long process and then we spent a lot of time rehearsing with the actors and really honing it down.
The Knockturnal: Is there a particular scene you’re most proud of or moment in the film?
Roger Deakins: No, I think that with any film what you really try to achieve is creating one world so not one element stands out as being out of place or anything special. I almost don’t want my cinematography to be noticed because in a way if it’s noticed—.
The Knockturnal: You want to be invisible in away.
Roger Deakins: Yeah, I do. Yeah.
The Knockturnal: What was this fourth collaboration like with Sam. Do you guys have a shorthand by now?
Roger Deakins: Yeah, we did actually. I mean we did a film, the first film I did for Sam was Jarhead, which is an Iraqi war film, and it was very similar in a way because it was again, a personal story —following a single character. I mean, in a way, we’ve built up a relationship in that way. The other films I’ve done were quite different.
The Knockturnal: Congratulations on being part of a very powerful film. So, speak about what the honor means to be here today and what you’re being recognized for.
Bryan Stevenson: Yeah, well it’s really gratifying. I mean, as somebody who’s spent three decades in jails and prisons next to condemned people and then wrote about that, to have that turned into a film and then have it get this kind of attention is really, really wonderful. I’m just so honored and excited to share the film with people. I do think it’s timely, its urgent, that we have real challenges in this country; and I hope the film motivates people to engage more on these important issues.
The Knockturnal: I know it’s been in development for many years, can you speak about the initial conversation when someone came to you and was like “I want to make this a movie,” what was that like?
Bryan Stevenson: Well, I was apprehensive at first because I wasn’t sure that I could trust Hollywood with a story like this but when Destin, our director, got involved and then when Michael B. Jordon got involved, we spent a lot of time talking and that gave me hope that we could do this in the right way. And I’m now really proud of the film. People have been very engaged and very solicitous of my input which has been reassuring and we’re excited to share the film with the world.
The Knockturnal: And what has it been like to just bring it to so many community screenings? Can you speak about that?
Bryan Stevenson: Sure. It’s been really wonderful to get, particularly targeted audiences—there’s so many people in this country who have been impacted by mass incarceration and over-incarceration. There are 132 million people with loved ones in jails and prisons and so, for many of them, they feel like their suffering, their struggle has been ignored. And showing the film to communities like that gives them hope that we might be able to do better, that these things matter, and that’s been really exciting to see.
The Knockturnal: So, what does it mean to be here celebrating your film?
Noah Segan: I’m here celebrating my fellow actors and Rian and the movie. It’s a movie that, I think, only exists as an ensemble … It really is the sum of all parts and so I think to be recognized as an ensemble, as a group, as a team, you know, filmmaking’s a team sport, so I think it’s really nice.
The Knockturnal: How did you first get involved in the movie?
Noah Segan: Well I’ve been working with Rian for about 15 years, I worked on his first movie, Brick, it was my first movie and he’s been keeping me around ever since.
The Knockturnal: How did you first meet him?
Noah Segan: I was just introduced to him. He was a guy who had a script and I was a kid trying to break into acting and we met and had a lot of similar interests and got along.
The Knockturnal: Can you speak about the importance of relationships in Hollywood?
Noah Segan: Oh, I think relationships in Hollywood are like relationships anywhere else. You want to work with people that you love, you want to work with your friends, you want to work with your family, you want to have a tight relationship and I think that is something that’s really important to Rian and obviously really important to me.
The Knockturnal: And the film has obviously been a huge hit, what has it been like just meeting fans?
Noah Segan: I think to have an experience where it feels like people are getting a glimpse—their experience is as much fun as our experience was making it, is a really nice thing. That’s like a really great handshake to have with people where you’re like “You had as much fun watching this as we had making it,” you know?
The Knockturnal: How many times have you seen the movie?
Noah Segan: I think like four or five times maybe.
The Knockturnal: What is it like to see it again?
Noah Segan: You know, I think by viewing like four or five, I’m able to like not cringe when I see myself.
The Knockturnal: And what’s coming up next for you?
Noah Segan: Oh, you know, I think we might get the band back together and give it one more go.
Other attendees and presenters included Drew Barrymore, Ram Bergman, Kathryn Bigelow, Marie Brenner, Timothée Chalamet, Bradley Cooper, Whoopi Goldberg, Salma Hayek, Rian Johnson, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Tom McCarthy, Lupita Nyong’o, Bryan Pitts, Billy Porter, Sam Rockwell, Jane Rosenthal, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Stevenson, Uma Thurman, and Lena Waithe.