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Gus Van Sant
Director; Executive Producer
Audiences and critics alike have taken note of Gus Van Sant’s movies since he made his feature film directorial debut in 1985 with Mala Noche, which won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Independent/Experimental Film.
His body of work also includes Drugstore Cowboy, starring Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch; My Own Private Idaho, starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves; Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, starring Uma Thurman; and To Die For. The latter, screened at the Cannes and Toronto International Film Festivals, earned Nicole Kidman a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Mr. Van Sant’s next feature, Good Will Hunting, brought him a Best Director Academy Award nomination. The film was nominated for eight other Oscars including Best Picture, winning for Best Supporting Actor (Robin Williams) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon).
He followed that up with his controversial remake of Psycho, which was the first feature shot-for-shot recreation of a film, and Finding Forrester before returning to his independent film roots with Gerry. He scripted the latter film with its actors, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. That filmmaking experience in turn inspired him to write and direct Elephant, shot on location in his hometown of Portland with a cast of novice actors. Elephant won both the top prize (the Palme d’Or) and the Best Director award at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival.
At the 2005 Cannes International Film Festival, Last Days, starring Michael Pitt and Lukas Haas, was honored with the Technical Grand Prize (for Leslie Shatz’s sound design) at Cannes. Mr. Van Sant once again cast novice actors to star in his next project, Paranoid Park, which he adapted from Blake Nelson’s novel of the same name. The film earned him the 60th Anniversary Prize at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival.
For Focus Features, he then directed Milk, a biographical drama; elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in America. Milk earned Mr. Van Sant his second Best Director Academy Award nomination. The film was nominated for seven other Oscars including Best Picture, winning for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Original Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black).
He next directed and produced Restless, a love story starring Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper, which world-premiered at the 2011 Cannes International Film Festival; and directed the premiere of the television drama Boss, for which lead actor Kelsey Grammer won a Golden Globe Award and on which Mr. Van Sant is an executive producer.
Throughout his career, he has continued to make short films. These works include an adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ short story “The Discipline of D.E.,” which screened at the New York Film Festival. In 1996, he directed Allen Ginsberg reading his own poem, “Ballad of the Skeletons,” to the music of Paul McCartney and Philip Glass; this short premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. His other shorts include Five Ways to Kill Yourself, Thanksgiving Prayer (a reteaming with William S. Burroughs), “Le Marais” (a segment of the feature Paris, je t’aime), and “Mansion on the Hill.” The latter is part of the 2008 U.N.-funded project 8, which was created to raise awareness about essential issues that our world is facing today.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mr. Van Sant earned a B.A. at the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to Hollywood. Early in his career, he spent two years in New York creating commercials for Madison Avenue. Eventually he settled in Portland, Oregon, where in addition to directing and producing, he pursued his other talents – painting, photography, and writing.
In 1995 he released a collection of photos entitled 108 Portraits (Twelvetrees Press) and in 1997 he published his first novel, Pink (Doubleday), a satire on filmmaking.
A longtime musician himself, Mr. Van Sant has directed music videos for top recording artists including David Bowie, Elton John, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Hanson.