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Vocation or vacation?

Honoring independent cinema’s ‘tour guide’
By BRETT MICHEL  |  May 1, 2008

Jeremy Thomas
This past Wednesday, April 16, the fifth Coolidge Award, honoring a “film artist whose work advances the spirit of original and challenging filmmaking,” was bestowed on Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, which earned the Best Picture Oscar in 1987. Organizers of the annual event, held within the art-deco interiors of Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre, have a knack for bringing top-tier talent, along with old-Hollywood glamour and a dash of respectability, to town. Previous recipients include acclaimed director Zhang Yimou and multiple Oscar winners Vittorio Storaro (The Last Emperor’s cinematographer), editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and actress Meryl Streep.

Festivities continued through Thursday and included “An Afternoon with Jeremy Thomas” — a rare opportunity for the audience to interact with the gracious 58-year-old Londoner as he shared insights into the production process. Later that evening, a distinguished panel of colleagues joined Thomas onstage, toasting (and occasionally roasting) their friend, before answering audience questions.

In the past, the Coolidge has attracted such celebrants as Martin Scorsese and the late Robert Altman. For movie lovers, this year’s guests were nearly as notable, leaving many attendees awed — including, apparently, the event’s moderator.

JD Connor, a film scholar and assistant professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University (by all appearances a man of composure) took to the podium and began by introducing honored guest “Jeremy Taylor.” Actress Debra Winger (who starred in Thomas’s 1990 production of Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky) corrected him, displaying a playful rambunctiousness that she’d continue for the next hour. Attempting to get things back on track, Connor wondered “what this panel wants to talk about.”

“Iraq,” joked actor Tim Roth, whose first film role was in 1984’s The Hit, directed by Stephen Frears — “and produced by Taylor,” Winger interjected.

Sitting to Roth’s right was screenwriter Mark Peploe, who collaborated with Bertolucci and Thomas on The Sheltering Sky, The Last Emperor, and 1993’s Little Buddha. At the far left sat another three-time collaborator, a legend who garnered the loudest applause of the night –– Nicolas Roeg, 79-year-old director of 1971’s Walkabout, who nodded when Peploe likened Thomas to a “tour guide.”

“He tells you where everyone can stop, where you can eat . . . even where you can shoot,” said Peploe, adding that Thomas managed to film in China’s Forbidden City.

“Forbidden for whom?” asked Winger. “Not for Taylor!”

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