2019 Film Fest Ghent: …and this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to screen icon Geraldine Chaplin

This year’s 46th edition of Film Fest Ghent has honored screen actress Geraldine Chaplin (b. 1944) with its Life Achievement Award, a.k.a. the Joseph Plateau Honorary Award, referring to Belgian-born Joseph Plateau (1801-1883), a pioneer in creating the illusion of a moving image with an animated device he called the phenakistiscope, as displayed on the award.

Wim De Witte, the Festival’s program director, was the Master of Ceremonies yesterday as he read the eulogy for Ms. Chaplin, stating that Film Fest Ghent was overjoyed, proud and priviliged to welcome her as their guest of honor: ‘Your presence at our festival brings cinematic history to Ghent. The aura of your father Charlie Chaplin, one of the most ingenious actors and directors of all time, still surrounds you. We would like to take this opportunity to keep his legacy and oeuvre alive. He is truly part of our world heritage.

By referring to your father, we do not wish to diminish your own contribution to the cinema. The Chaplin name may have opened many doors for you, but a name alone cannot carry a career of over fifty years and a filmography of more than one hundred and fifty titles. Some of these films have gone down in history as some of the greatest films ever made. It all began with “Limelight” [1952]. Then, after a brief interval in the ballet, David Lean chose you to play Tonya in “Doctor Zhivago” [1965]. You were loved by the audience and your father himself became your biggest fan. A one hundred and eighty degree for a man who had only hoped that his children would find a decent profession—acting was definitely not that.

[The trailer of David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago,” 1965]

While shooting “Doctor Zhivago,” you met Carlos Saura and together you have made invaluable contributions to both French and Spanish cinema. In May of 1968 you stood at the barricades in Cannes and were partly responsible for the premature end of that year’s edition in solidarity with the protesting crowds across France, even though this action cancelled the premiere of your first collaboration [with Carlos Saura], “Peppermint Frappé” [1967]. Your passion and talent fully flourished in Saura’s films including “Cría Cuervos” [1976] and “Ana y los Lobos” [1973, a.k.a. “Ana and the Wolves”]. Your vulnarble suffering and searching portrayals have moved and touched audiences from the beginning.

Your talent was not left unnoticed on the American movie scene. Soon you found yourself working with Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese—to name just two. In fact, you have found a home on every continent and this is proven by the long list of directors you have worked alongside of, from Jodie Foster, Pedro Almodóvar, Claude Lelouch to Jacques Rivette, Jane Birkin, Alain Resnais, J. A. Bayona and Belgian’s own Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth.

“The Barefoot Emperor” required you, not for the first time, to embody a double role, but you’ve taken on even bigger challenges in Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin” [1992] for instance, you portrayed your own grandmother.

Dearest Geraldine, you once remarked that the ballet had abandoned you. The same cannot be said from the cinematic world. You were never abandoned by the big screen and you have never given up on us, your audience. For that we thank you.

In recent years you have not shied from displaying your age. Multiple times you’ve sworn that directors only casted you for your wrinkles these days. Allow me to share this wisdom with you: wrinkles alone cannot act. It is the spark and the personality, the person behind the wrinkled mask that counts. And that person is undoubtedly still extremely professional and talented. We at Film Fest Ghent can only hope that you remain as you are for many more years to come. As a recognition of your indisputably important contribution to the cinema, we would like to honor you by offering you the Joseph Plateau Honorary Award. Tonight film history comes together by joining the names of Plateau and Chaplin. Thank you for being here, Geraldine Chaplin.’

Geraldine Chaplin during her acceptance speech at Film Fest Ghent. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

With a broad smile on her face, Ms. Chaplin came up on the stage to accept her award, and in her spontaneous and joyful acceptance speech, she said, ‘Thank you so much. What a great honor, a joy, and a privilege to receive this honor in Ghent of all places. I mean, I’ve never been here, but my parents used to come here a lot. They would go off on post-marital honeymoons to Ghent, because my father had the idea that people went to Bruges, but Ghent was the real thing. Every time they’d come home, my mother would show her home movies, so I feel I know Ghent because I’ve seen it in so many of my mother’s home movies. We would all sit down after dinner, watch the movies and we all knew when we saw Ghent that sooner or later, usually sooner, we would have another brother or sister, because in our house babies came from Ghent [laughs]. So now tonight I have my new baby, and especially this new baby, this new movie that you’re going to see [“The Barefoot Emperor”] which is an incredible and a wonderful, wonderful baby, and it’s already been born. I don’t think I’ll have any more babies—who knows… Ghent… [laughs]. Thank you so much and enjoy the movie, it’s so great!”

That same evening, “Ana y los Lobos” and her latest film “The Barefoot Emperor” were screened at the Festival, both followed by a Q & A with Ms. Chaplin.

Film Fest Ghent (Belgium)
October 14, 2019

Geraldine Chaplin with Film Fest Ghent’s Life Achievement Award, a.k.a. the Joseph Plateau Honorary Award. Photographs: © Leo/Film Talk
Geraldine Chaplin with Joseph Plateau’s phenakistiscope. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk
Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk