The TIFF Ebert Director Award recognizes filmmakers who have exemplified greatness in their careers. Named after legendary film critic Roger Ebert, TIFF has announced that the Award this year will go to Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes. Mendes will join the company of celebrated visionaries who previously received the TIFF Ebert Director Award at the Toronto International Film Festival: Martin Scorsese, Claire Denis, Ava DuVernay, Wim Wenders, Agnès Varda, Denis Villeneuve, Chloé Zhao, and Taika Waititi. The Award will be presented at the in-person TIFF Tribute Awards gala fundraiser on Sunday, September 11th, at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
"I am so happy to present Sam Mendes the TIFF Ebert Director's Award," said RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert. "My husband admired all of the director's films, and awarded four stars to not only 'American Beauty' but 'Revolutionary Road' and 'Skyfall.' He is unquestionably a worthy recipient of this annual honor. Roger was also a great friend of TIFF, and I know he would be proud that an award in his name is associated with this world renowned festival."
Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, said, “From his first appearance at TIFF with 'American Beauty,' director Sam Mendes brought his exacting and lyrical vision of cinema to Toronto. We are delighted to honor his unique voice and body of work with this year’s TIFF Ebert Director Award.” Mendes made his feature film debut at the Festival in 1999 with the World Premiere of "American Beauty," a TIFF People’s Choice Award winner, for which he was honored with an Oscar in the Best Director category.
Bailey also announced that TIFF will be presenting the Canadian premiere of Mendes’ most recent work, "Empire of Light," which he wrote, directed, and produced. Set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s, Searchlight Pictures’ "Empire of Light" is a film about human connection and the power of cinema. Starring Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, with Toby Jones and Colin Firth, Mendes also teams up with award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who was a TIFF Tribute Award recipient in 2019.
Of Mendes' filmmaking debut, Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review, "'American Beauty' is a comedy because we laugh at the absurdity of the hero's problems. And a tragedy because we can identify with his failure--not the specific details, but the general outline. The movie is about a man who fears growing older, losing the hope of true love and not being respected by those who know him best. If you never experience those feelings, take out a classified ad. People want to take lessons from you."
In Roger's review of Mendes' next movie, 2002's "Road to Perdition," he correctly predicted that it would earn its legendary cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall, a posthumous Oscar. "He creates a limbo of darkness, shadow, night, fearful faces half-seen, cold and snow," he wrote. "His characters stand in downpours, the rain running off the brims of their fedoras and soaking the shoulders of their thick wool overcoats. Their feet must always be cold. The photography creates a visceral chill."
Roger also greatly admired Mendes' 2005 war drama, "Jarhead," writing, "The movie is uncanny in its effect. It contains no heroism, little action, no easy laughs. It is about men who are exhausted, bored, lonely, trained to the point of obsession and given no opportunity to use their training." Mendes' fourth feature, 2008's "Revolutionary Road," reunited "Titanic" stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and received four stars from Roger. "They are so good, they stop being actors and become the people I grew up around," he wrote. "Don't think they smoke too much in this movie. In the 1950s everybody smoked everywhere all the time. Life was a disease, and smoking held it temporarily in remission."
The following year, Mendes switched gears to direct a lighthearted comedy, "Away We Go," which delighted Roger. "Burt and Verona are two characters rarely seen in the movies: thirtysomething, educated, healthy, self-employed, gentle, thoughtful, whimsical, not neurotic and really truly in love," he wrote. "Their great concern is finding the best place and way to raise their child, who is a bun still in the oven. For every character like this I’ve seen in the last 12 months, I’ve seen 20, maybe 30, mass murderers." The final Mendes picture that Roger reviewed was his 2012 blockbuster, "Skyfall," which the critic loved. "The film is guided by a considerable director (Sam Mendes), written by the heavyweights Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, and delivers not only a terrific Bond but a terrific movie, period," Roger wrote in his four-star review. "If you haven't seen a 007 for years, this is the time to jump back in."
In 2019, Mendes was interviewed by RogerEbert.com Literary Editor Matt Fagerholm about his latest Oscar-winning film, "1917," and how it defied the conventional rules of screenwriting. "It’s very linear without having a three-act structure, parallel action or subplots," he noted, "so it is actually quite a tricky thing to achieve that feeling of shape, that feeling that a movie can breathe in, breathe out, and like a piece of music, it knows how to balance a slow movement with a fast movement without becoming repetitive or metronomic."
Mendes founded and ran the Donmar Warehouse in London for ten years, and was the founding director of Neal Street Productions and The Bridge Project. His work has been seen at the National Theatre, RSC, Royal Court, Old Vic, Young Vic, BAM, the West End, and on Broadway. In addition to all of his previously mentioned films, he also helmed the 2015 James Bond picture, "Spectre."
He received the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture and three other Academy Award nominations, five BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, three Tony Awards, five Olivier Awards, the Olivier Special Award, three Evening Standard Awards, two Directors Guild of America Awards, the PGA award, the Jason Robards Award, and the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize. Mendes has also won the Director’s Guild Award for lifetime achievement, is an Honorary Fellow of the National Film and Television School, and a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was made a CBE in 2000 and knighted in 2020 for services to drama.