Tall, fit, and sharply dressed in a black suit, white collared shirt, and platinum-colored skinny tie, Ben Affleck cut a striking figure as he walked the red carpet in front of the Arlington Theater last night. Affleck was there to receive the SBIFF Modern Master Award, which is given each year to a “Renaissance artist” in the film industry, as festival director Roger Durling explained from the stage when the evening began.
Affleck came unaccompanied to the event — no entourage, no movie star fuss. He sat patiently in his seat in the audience and made a quiet phone call (to his wife, Jennifer Garner, he later reveled) as he waited for the crowd to settle and the event to begin. The only thing distinguishing him from the rest of the attendees were the two body guards sitting a few seats away from him. (Even so, a bold fan made her way to Affleck pre-show, interrupting his phone call to ask for an autograph, which he politely gave.)
The lights went down about 20 minutes after the 8 p.m. start time when Durling gave the evening’s opening remarks. (With all eyes on the stage, actor Matt Damon and his wife were discretely escorted to their seats just behind Affleck.) Then respected film critic and long-time festival moderator, Leonard Maltin, turned the attention to the night’s honoree, introducing a montage of Affleck’s films and then the man himself. (After a clip from Good Will Hunting, Damon leaned forward and whispered something in Affleck’s ear that made them both giggle.)
Affleck took the stage, then, and settled into a two-hour interview/retrospective. Articulate and hilariously funny, Affleck explained how he got started in acting and told behind-the-scene stories of his various films — most of which had the audience in stitches. For example, in an emotional scene in Armaggedon, his face was sweaty and he looked pained — that was due to the bout of food poisoning he had, but he admitted the physical results worked really well for the shoot.
As for how he turned his career toward directing, Affleck said, “I was feeling over exposed and sick of the gossip machine. The only thing I knew how to do was to take myself out of it. I went to Georgia and thought about who I wanted to be. Then went off and quietly made [Gone Baby Gone].”
On his directing success, he explained, “It is profoundly important to me that I’m proud of the film and that it has integrity” and that the process is “an uphill battle. I’m always making changes to make it a little better. I work as hard as I can because I know that is the only shot I have at being successful.”
The evening closed with Matt Damon presenting Affleck with the Modern Master Award. He said that one of Affleck’s strengths is that he is a great problem-solver “and so much of filmmaking is about problem solving. And you cannot make a great movie by accident,” he continued. “Anyone who makes a great movie is a great director. My buddy is, without question, a great director.” Affleck received a standing ovation from the audience that couldn’t agree more.