My Life As a Dog, Swedish director Lasse Hallström’s debut film in the United States, earned him Oscar nominations for director and adapted screenplay in 1988. But he says the excitement of that experience didn’t match what he felt at the film’s U.S. premiere at the Miami Film Festival.
On that February evening in 1987 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, he remembers first feeling shaken with nerves and then bathed in relief at the reaction of the first American audience to see the film. “I was amazed at the audience responding at the same points as the Swedish audience, only much louder,” he said with a laugh during an interview.
“The Miami audience was much bigger. That was a fantastic experience and experiencing the applause afterwards …” The festival’s founder and director, Nat Chediak, had already established a knack for discovering some of the world cinema’s greatest directors, beginning with the 1983 introduction of Pedro Almodóvar to American audiences with Bad Habits at the festival’s debut. Hallström’s U.S. debut was an important milestone for not only world film but also Hollywood.
The Hypnotist, Hallström’s latest film and his first Swedish-language film in 25 years, will make its Florida premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday as part of this year’s 30th anniversary festival at the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, during which he will receive a career tribute award.
More than a quarter-century after his first experience with the festival, he recognizes its importance in launching his career.
“This was before it was bought by the United States or nominated,” he says of My Life As a Dog, adapted from Reidar Jönsson’s beloved Swedish novel. It marked an esteemed debut for the director of some of Hollywood’s more recognizable dramas. His English-speaking work began in 1991 with the bittersweet drama starring Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss, Once Around. Then came What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? That 1993 film helped make a star of Leonardo DiCaprio, who received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role as the mentally challenged brother of the titular character played by Johnny Depp.
More work with bigger stars arrived in 1995 for Something to Talk About, with Julia Roberts, Dennis Quaid, Robert Duvall and Kyra Sedgwick, who would earn a Golden Globe nomination for her supporting role. But no film in Hallström’s oeuvre would gain as much acclaim as the seven-time Oscar-nominated The Cider House Rules. The 1999 film won Oscars for supporting actor Michael Caine and writer John Irving, who adapted his novel for the film’s screenplay.
“It was a wonderful time touring parts of the country together with the producer Richard Gladstein and the writer John Irving,” Hallström recalls.
He would continue to work with cinema’s great actors. He reteamed with Depp for the acclaimed Chocolat (2000), which co-starred Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench. Hallström would later work with the late Heath Ledger, who played the title role in the enchanting Casanova (2005). The following year he would direct Richard Gere in The Hoax, the true story of an investigative reporter who faked Howard Hughes’ autobiography in the early 1970s.