Friday night saw throngs of folks gathered on the rain glistening street in front of the Arlington waiting for a chance to glimpse mega movie star Sandra Bullock. Receiving the American Riviera Award — given to an American actor whose work has made an indelible mark in cinema — Bullock arrived solo and spent the next half-hour-plus graciously answering questions and posing for photographs on the red carpet.
As a result, the 8 p.m. start time was pushed back significantly, but the audience didn’t seem to mind the delay. After a brief intro by SBIFF Board of Directors President Jeffrey Barbakow and a turn at the podium for mega sponsor Chopin vodka’s CEO, Bullock was invited onstage by the evening’s moderator, film critic Pete Hammond.
Looking gorgeous in a form-fitting black dress and sky-high heels, Bullock spent the next two-plus hours endearing the audience to her with her funny, self-effacing comments, openness, and sincerity.
Hammond guided us through the expanse of Bullock’s life and career. Raised by two working opera singers, Bullock spoke of being on stage at an early age as “the dirty gypsy child” in her mother’s productions. This experience, she said, taught her a valuable lesson about the business. During one opera performance, the young Bullock was carrying out her “gypsy” role by collecting money that was supposedly being thrown onto the stage. Rather than remaining in the shadows, however, she trotted in front of the tenor, thus breaking a sacred rule of performance—don’t upstage the star. She’s never forgotten that, she said.
Throughout the evening, montages from Bullock’s films throughout her career were shown. It was interesting—and her comments often hilarious—to get the inside scoop on each film. “This is painful to watch,” she said after clips from A Time to Kill and While You Were Sleeping. While she delighted in the movies themselves, she said she could only see what she could have done differently (i.e., better) with her role.
She spoke candidly about the poor decision-making involved in accepting the lead role in Speed 2. (“Obviously Keanu knew something that I didn’t,” she laughed.) In good humor she joked about asking, “When do we get a script?” not realizing, she said, “Apparently you don’t need one in an action film.” Still, Bullock has no regrets, claiming that she learned invaluable lessons from Speed 2 as well as the other flops she’s made. (Who’s seen Fire on the Amazon?)
The evening closed with snippets from Bullock’s 2009 hit films The Proposal and The Blind Side. She did mention with sarcasm that she was surprised her other 2009 film, All About Steve — which was panned by audiences and critics alike — hasn’t been nominated for anything except a Razzie. “It’s a film before it’s time,” she said, laughing, and expects it to achieve cult status á la The Wizard of Oz or Rocky Horror Picture Show in 10 years. Regarding this year of serious award nominations she confessed, “This has been a big year and in a way I haven’t processed it yet.”
Actor/director Forrest Whitaker then took the stage to present his friend with her award — he was her director in the 1998 film Hope Floats and she presented him an award at the festival a couple years ago — and gave a poetic speech about Bullock’s grace and depth to a rapt audience.