Laura Dern in Trial by Fire
Laura Dern in Trial by Fire

Actress Laura Dern will be honored during the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival with a special tribute, followed by an advance screening of her upcoming film Trial by Fire, directed by Edward Zwick. The moderated onstage conversation with Dern and the screening will take place Sunday, April 14, at 3:30 pm at the Castro Theatre. Zwick will also participate in the onstage conversation preceding the film.

“We are thrilled to welcome this towering figure in film to the SFFILM Festival,” said SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan. “She lives so many of our treasured Bay Area values every day. As an actress she has amazed us with her courage and innovation in countless extraordinary performances, from her early roles in the films of David Lynch to the groundbreaking series Big Little Lies. As an activist, she has pushed for greater diversity in film and support for women under threat in the film industry. We could not imagine a more fascinating person to hear from at this point in film and social history.”

The daughter of two of the most acclaimed actors of their generation, Laura Dern has become one of the most acclaimed actors of her own. She has received two Academy Award nominations, two SAG nominations, four Golden Globe Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award in addition to seven nominations, proving herself to be a power woman in entertainment. In 2016, she was also selected to serve on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors. Her breakthrough role as a teenager in thrall of a seductive man in Joyce Chopra’s Bay Area-set Smooth Talk (1985) established how deeply under the skin she can sink into her characters. A year later, she began one of her most fruitful professional alliances when David Lynch tapped into her girl-next-door appeal, her presence a sharp contrast to the depravity around her, in Blue Velvet (1986). Most recently, Dern demonstrated another side of herself in collaboration with Lynch as Dale Cooper’s fierce secretary Diane in Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). Her performances as a young Southern seductress in Rambling Rose (1991) and as Cheryl Strayed’s devoted, dying mother in Wild (2014) both earned Academy Award nominations. More recently, she won an Emmy for her extraordinarily shaded performance in the HBO series Big Little Lies. Recent and upcoming roles reveal Dern’s magnificent range: the inscrutable Diane Evans in Twin Peaks: The Return, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox in The Tale (2018), literary hoaxer Laura Albert in Jeremiah Terminator Leroy (2019), control-freak businesswoman Renata Klein in Big Little Lies (returning for a second season in June), and genteel Marmee March in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019), coming this Christmas.

Trial by Fire (Edward Zwick, USA, 2018, 127 min)
In Edward Zwick’s searing drama, adapted from a 2009 New Yorker article by David Grann, Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell) is convicted of an arson-related triple homicide and placed on death row. In the film’s second half, his pen-pal friendship with playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern), who becomes his advocate, takes center stage. Dern ignites the film as a woman determined to save an innocent man from execution.  O’Connell’s performance is her equal, a portrait of a crude, violent man whose behavior makes it all too easy to assume his guilt. Based on a true story, Trial by Fire lays out how easily questionable testimony and ingrained prejudice can lead to a false conviction.

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