Whitaker to receive Douglas Award

Forest Whitaker

Film actor Forest Whitaker, who stars in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” is to receive this year’s Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, according to an announcement from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The award will be given at a black-tie gala dinner Dec. 15 at the Bacara.

The 52-year-old actor is best known for his roles in “Platoon,” “Bird,” “The Crying Game,” and “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.”

His starring role in “The Last King of Scotland,” in which he played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, earned him his first Oscar for Best Actor. He also was honored for the role at SBIFF in 2007.

Kirk Douglas
“He’s having quite an amazing, quite spectacular year,” said Roger Durling, executive director of SBIFF. “He is a true gentlemen. He exemplifies that word to me. … There’s a great dignity to him.”

The Kirk Douglas Award is not just the famous actor’s namesake, but the retired star and friend of the festival personally chooses who to honor from a short list presented to him by the festival. Last year’s honoree was Robert DeNiro.

“Forest Whitaker is an exceptional man and actor,” Mr. Douglas said in the announcement. “His commitment to human causes, his passion for what is right, and his dedication to his craft are inspirational, and at my age inspiration is rare.”

Kirk and Anne Douglas were neighbors of Mr. Whitaker in Los Angeles, so they have known him personally for some time. The two actors also have been producers and directors in their careers.

For Mr. Whitaker, it has been a good year. He starred as Cecil Gaines, the White House butler who served eight presidents during his employ and who witnesses the whole arc of the civil rights movement in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” starring opposite Oprah Winfrey.

Later this year he co-stars in the thriller “Out of the Furnace,” opposite Christian Bale and directed by Scott Cooper, who directed “Crazy Heart.”

Next year he will appear in his first musical, “Black Nativity,” with Jennifer Hudson and Angela Bassett.

His company, Significant Productions, produced “Fruitvale Station,” which won the 2013 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Mr. Durling calls that film “by far one of the most important independent films released this year.”

Mr. Whitaker’s humanitarian work includes the founding of the PeaceEarth Foundation, as well as being the co-founder and chair of the International Institute for Peace and the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation. His documentary production work includes films on Uganda, the Rwandan genocide, and Louisiana’s Angola Prison.

The black-tie affair at the Bacara Resort will be a sit-down dinner and a retrospective of Mr. Whitaker’s work. The event is a fundraiser for the 29th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which will run Jan. 30 through Feb. 9.

“The evening heralds the beginning of the Film Festival, but it’s also a way to celebrate Mr. Douglas,” said Mr. Durling. “He’s been so generous to us and we’re so fortunate that he’s part of the family.”

For tickets, go to www.sbfilmfestival.org.

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