Spike Lee razzes Bloomberg and the Weinsteins recall their film roots at the eighth annual 'Made in NY' Awards
NEW YORK - The eighth annual "Made in NY" Awards were presented tonight at Gracie Mansion under a torrential Gotham downpour braved by the city's elite. The awards are given each year to individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to various fields in New York's entertainment and digital industries, and this year's recipients covered the gamut from filmmaking to journalism to technology and all points in between.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hosted the evening along with Commissioner of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Katherine Oliver, used that very diversity as his way into toasting the nine recipients to open the ceremony. Joking about a "Bloomberg on Bloomberg" biopic, he said he could finance (through Tumblr CEO David Karp, who just sold the company to Yahoo! for $1.1 billion), make (through filmmaker and Brooklyn staple Spike Lee) and distribute (through Weinstein Company chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein) the imaginary film with all the firepower on hand.
He had the on-screen talent, as well, in the form of actor Alan Cumming and actress Audra McDonald. He had design at his fingertips with multi-hyphenate Heidi Klum. He had television distribution resources in HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins. And he had the press angle with Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Barbara Walters. The nine honorees were "a testament to a new golden age of media and film in New York," he said before handing out the trophies.
Cumming was the first recipient, fresh off an appearance at the 67th annual Tony Awards last night. He's currently starring in a one-man show of William Shakespeare's "MacBeth" on Broadway. He remarked on how when he found his way to New York, he knew he had discovered where he fit in. "I want to thank the city, not just for this award," he said, "but for this one I got last week." He then pulled a parking ticket from his pocket. "But I'm happy to stuff this city's coffers," he joked.
In presenting the Weinstein brothers, who have made their home in New York since the days of Miramax, Bloomberg called the film industry magnates "the prides of Flushing." Said Bob Weinstein, "We were told to keep our speeches to a minute and a half. If my brother keeps his speech to a minute and a half, I'll give him $10,000."
He then recounted the moment he and brother Harvey fell in love with the movies. They got their "film school education" at a neighborhood theater, day after day absorbing what was on offer. One day their father, Max, took them fishing in Flushing Meadows Park, aiming for some variety to their extracurricular activities. After hours of trying, and no fish to show, they retreated to the movie theater and "order was restored," Bob said. "We never went fishing again. We were made in New York and we're never going to leave New York."
To that point, Harvey noted a "bump in the road" a few years back when things were "topsy-turvy" at The Weinstein Company. It was a period of time when moving to California was potentially in the cards, but they wanted to stay in the city they called home. "The Mayor was extremely busy but dropped a lot of things and got it done for us," Harvey said. "He was there in a big way and an individual way, and I don't think we would still be in New York if it weren't for the Mayor."
He recalled an ad in the paper years ago in their youth for the Mayfair movie theater that said "The 400 Blows," and "we thought that was something else," he joked. The movie started, it was black and white, French, directed by François Truffaut…not what they were expecting. But they were hooked. Their father would take them frequently and just sleep in the back while the brothers "haunted that theater," soaking up the best of international and independent cinema.
And Bob might just owe him that $10,000, by the way.
Spike Lee opened, naturally, by asking the crowd, "Is Brooklyn in the house?" He told stories of walking through New York, even before he wanted to be a filmmaker. He saw Robert De Niro filming "Taxi Driver" on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and even answered a call for extras to appear in the final scene of 1976's "King Kong" at the Empire State Building. "It was amazing to me to see movies made, and it was in New York City," he said. "So I want to continue to make my films here and represent Brooklyn."
Lee then took a moment to razz the Mayor -- who called the filmmaker "The Minister of Culture in the Republic of Brooklyn" -- while accepting his honor. "This person that keeps calling the cops on my father, the great jazz musician," Lee said. "We bought our brownstone in 1968, way before these people moved in! Pre-gentrification of Fort Greene! My father's a great musician. Let him play his music!"
Klum noted the importance of the city as an inspiration to her and the designers who work for her fashion line. McDonald expressed how proud she is to be able to raise her child in a "microcosm of what the world is and what the world can be." Karp said he refused to take his company to Palo Alto (the technology world's Northern California breeding ground) and remarked on how crucial New York has been in the rise of Tumblr: Brooklyn, he said, was actually an early, dominant adopter of the site, according to analytics data. The city, for obvious reasons, was as much the star as those being honored.
Also on hand and fresh off the Tonys was Harvey Fierstein. His and fellow New Yorker Cyndi Lauper's musical "Kinky Boots" ran away with the most prizes last night, including Best Musical. To that point, "it's a production that boasts an amazing New York City pedigree," Bloomberg said. Fierstein introduced "Kinky Boots" star (and Tony nominee) Annaleigh Ashford, who performed one of the show's numbers, "The History of Wrong Guys."
Wrapping up the evening by accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Barbara Walters said with awe, "I have lived to see a black president, a woman anchoring the evening news and the right to sit with her girlfriend on a Saturday night at a fancy restaurant and still get waited on. I have had an amazing career. I've interviewed world leaders and kings and queens and heroes and villains and movie stars and want-to-bes. I've interviewed every president since Richard Nixon. I still have not interviewed the Queen of England or the Pope and I hope one day in the not-too-distant future to interview the first female president. I am retiring in a year from 50 years of one of the most exciting careers a person can have. I still have my own hair, and my faith in the future."
The "Made in NY" Awards, which were launched under Bloomberg's watch, are in flux with a new Mayor and Commissioner expected to take the reins on the city later this year. Perhaps there will be a ninth annual, perhaps not. Time will tell.
Past recipients have included Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Kelly Ripa, Marcia Gay Harden, John Leguizamo, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Lansbury, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Tamara Tunie, Sesame Street, Saturday Night Live and Kickstarter.