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 Toronto gala fundraiser awards show and dinner 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’s 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.”
Streep praised organizers at the Toronto film festival for their positive efforts to showcase more female directors at the festival, which she called “moving the needle by intention.”
Fellow actor Joaquin Phoenix later stepped onto the stage to accept his own TIFF Tribute 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 when his late brother River Phoenix came home with a VHS copy of “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.”
Phoenix said his brother, and the movie, were instrumental in inspiring him to return to film after years of being a child actor.
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.
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” is part of this year’s lineup. He received the TIFF Ebert Director Award, named after the late film critic Roger Ebert.
The evening also included a tribute to David Foster, who took the stage to play songs be produced with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, accompanied by vocal powerhouses Pia Toscano and Shelea Frazier.
French director Mati Diop, whose film “Atlantics” is playing the festival, received the Mary Pickford Award for an emerging female talent.
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.
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