RICHARD LAGRAVENESE, DIRECTOR, FREEDOM WRITERS, is a film screenwriter and director who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He is a theatre graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Wing. He wrote the screenplay The Fisher King which ultimately received five Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Screenplay. Mr. LaGravenese’s subsequent screenwriting credits include The Ref, directed by Ted Demme; A Little Princess, directed by Alfonso Cuaron; Unstrung Heroes, directed by Diane Keaton; The Bridges of Madison County, directed by Clint Eastwood; The Mirror Has Two Faces, directed by Barbra Streisand; The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford; and Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme.
Mr. LaGravenese made his directorial debut with his original screenplay for the critically acclaimed Living Out Loud, starring Danny DeVito, Holly Hunter, and Queen Latifah, and he received an Emmy nomination for best documentary for A Decade Under the Influence, a documentary, co-directed by his partner, the late Ted Demme, which explored filmmakers and breakthrough films of the 1970s. He participated as a writer/director in the collective film project Paris Je T’aime (with stars Fanny Ardent and Bob Hoskins) which was the opening night selection for the 2006 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard.
It is Mr. LaGravenese’s most recent film called Freedom Writers, which has led The Anne Frank Center USA to honor him with the Spirit of Anne Frank Distinguished Advocate Award. Freedom Writers is based on the true-life diaries of at risk teenagers living amid race wars and gang violence in Long Beach, California, who were mentored through a life-altering experience by their teacher, Erin Gruwell. Portrayed by Hilary Swank in the film, Ms. Gruwell used Anne Frank’s Diary, her life and times, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as the catalysts to self empowerment. Her students saw the parallels in these books to their own lives. Their thoughts and feelings were published in 1999 by Random House under the title The Freedom Writers Diary. In 1997, this student body received the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Youth Award, as many had become community activists and were now on track for college.
Erin Gruwell will personally present the award to Mr. LaGravenese this evening.
When asked why he wanted to make the film, which will open in January of 2007, Mr. LaGravenese replied, “I was very moved by the voices of the teenagers in the diaries telling their true stories of life on the streets. Stories of violence, racism and intolerance. Stories about a hopelessness that can affect our youth at such a early age. It seemed to me a rare opportunity to tell a film story about how that hopelessness and intolerance can be transformed.”
This award underscores how powerful it is when members of the film community make choices to show that individuals acting on personal convictions can be a force for good.
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