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CinemaCon 2022: Stars Talk About Their Love of Movies at Big Screen Achievement Awards

CinemaCon 2022 wrapped up on Thursday, April 28, with the annual convention’s “Big Screen Achievement Awards,” held at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Capping off a jam-packed week in which Hollywood movie studios showcased their upcoming slates to theater owners and exhibition executives from all over the United States and the world, the evening’s celebratory gala further fed a general sense of optimism present all week about the burgeoning return of in-person events, and allowed honorees like Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldaña and Rachel McAdams to recount some of their formative moviegoing experiences.

Katherine Twells, a 32-year veteran of Coca-Cola and the company’s Senior Vice President of Customer Excellence, kicked things off, touting the specialness of the theatrical exhibition industry and talking about the Coca-Cola Refreshing Films Program, a contest that provides a production grant to aspiring filmmakers to help realize their vision of a short film which celebrates communal moviegoing. This year’s winner, screened at the awards event, was Say Cheese, from Rochester Institute of Technology students Anna McClanahan and Gabriel Ponte-Fleary.

Event emcee Kevin Frazier, of Entertainment Tonight, next took the stage. After a clip reel celebrating the incredible 57-year career of Robert De Niro, who next appears in co-writer/co-star Sebastian Maniscalco’s autobiographical comedy About My Father, the legendary actor took the stage to accept CinemaCon’s Cinéma Vérité Award.

“For me, the joy of movies is tied to the big screen and the collective experience,” said De Niro, going on to namecheck many of the specific theaters and movies he attended growing up. “I’ll never forget when I was a kid seeing Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at the Academy of Music on 14th Street, and then having Bela Lugosi, believe it or not, come out live on stage. These are the thrills of going to a movie theater — it never gets old.”


De Niro, never afraid to speak his mind, also took the moment to make a pointed political statement to the assembled crowd. “I’m very grateful for the Cinéma Vérité Award — the cinema part is encouraging. New films are coming out, popcorn is popping, and audiences are returning to your theaters in droves,” he continued. “I wish vérité was also having a renaissance, but this is a tough time for the truth. We’re living in a time of big untruths — like Ukraine doesn’t exist except as a part of Russia, or like Trump won the 2020 election. And these big lies animate hundreds of thousands of smaller lies. This one can’t remember, that one can’t recall, these ones hide behind the Fifth Amendment. And these are government people. Usually, it’s the characters I play that hide behind the Fifth Amendment. Another one just lies, and even when contradicted by a reporter doesn’t change his story. I’m reminded of that great quote from L.A. Rams coach Ray Malavasi: ‘I don’t care what the tape says, I didn’t say it.’ Oh, you said it, Ray. And I heard it, Kevin McCarthy, you said it.”

Next to the stage was Zoe Saldaña, honored as CinemaCon Star of the Year. The Avatar and Avengers: Endgame actress recounted her childhood, growing up with three sisters in Queens. “Our ritual was going to movies, the movie theater like our sanctuary,” she said. “It was there that we felt utterly happy and at home. And we didn’t just go to the movies on Saturday evenings, we went after school, we would go if we were happy or sad, sometimes we’d even go after funerals. Movies were inspiring, they were therapeutic, they were educational, they were funny, wild, crazy, complex, artistically engaging, and visually tempting. We would watch re-watch movies that same day if we loved it so much.”

In a speech that became quite emotional, especially toward its conclusion, Saldaña mentioned watching Beetlejuice three times in one day and reflected upon finding a familial connection and greater sense of belonging in the world through the shared moviegoing experience. “Sometimes we were only able to save enough money for our movie tickets, and there would be no popcorn on those days,” she said. “So my mother would pack (my sisters and I) a lunch and a dinner for each of our backpacks for when we got hungry. We were like those folks sitting in the movie opening Tupperware quietly so as to not disturb anybody. I swear to God, we were like the kids who always smelled like sofrito.”

CinemaCon Vanguard Award Rachel McAdams was honored next and used the convention’s name as an inspired leaping-off point for her personal reflections. “You can call them movies, but I love saying cinema — it’s such a lovely, fancy-pants word,” she said. “When I was a little girl in small-town Canada there was absolutely nothing fancier, nothing better, nothing that made me happier than going to the cinema. And holy shit balls, how much have I missed going to the movies these last couple of years! I finally went last weekend for the first time in a very long time, to see a Nicolas Cage movie in a suburban strip mall in the middle-of-nowhere Georgia. And maybe it wasn’t fancy-pants, but by God it was cinema. Nic Cage knows what I’m talking about, wherever he is.”

Other CinemaCon honorees included: Top Gun: Maverick co-star and Star of Tomorrow Award winner Glen Powell, who had the in-person support of more than two dozen friends and family members dressed out in flight suits, and elicited a big crowd reaction when he recognized them all by special “call sign” nicknames; and Rising Star of 2022 Award winner Abby Ryder Fortson, who has appeared in the Ant-Man movies as Paul Rudd’s daughter Cassie and will star as the title character in the upcoming adaptation of Judy Blume’s seminal young adult novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Closing out the evening was Billy Eichner, who was recognized as the Comedy Star of the Year. Best known for his Emmy Award-nominated comedy show Billy on the Street, which has garnered over 200 million online views, multi-hyphenate Eichner is the chief creative force behind director Nicholas Stoller’s Bros, the first gay romantic comedy to be produced by a major Hollywood studio.

“Here’s the thing I want to say: romantic comedies are important, they are the movies that I personally grew up with that made me fall in love with cinema,” said the 43-year-old actor. “From Moonstruck and Broadcast News to Annie Hall and Bridesmaids — these are the movies we return to over and over in our lives. They become like our old friends.” Eichner finished his acceptance speech by sharing an anecdote from 2006 in which an otherwise supportive former manager, in advance of a showcase he was doing for prospective talent agents, asked him if he could “make it a little less gay.” Eichner voiced his hope that Bros, which features an exclusively out and openly LGBTQ cast in all of its lead and supporting roles, would help more people feel seen and represented on the big screen, especially within a genre that so celebrates emotions that bind all of us together.