Golden Icon Award: Sean Penn

Serving as the Festival’s most prestigious symbol of recognition, the Golden Icon Award is presented each year in appreciation of the lifetime achievements of an actor and filmmaker, whose career has left a lasting impression upon the film industry and influenced a whole generation.  

Two-time Academy Award® winner Sean Penn has become an American film icon in a career spanning nearly three decades. He has been nominated five times for the Academy Award® as Best Actor for DEAD MAN WALKING, SWEET AND LOWDOWN, I AM SAM and won his first Oscar® in 2003 for his searing performance in Clint Eastwood's MYSTIC RIVER and his second Oscar® as Best Actor in 2009 for Gus Van Sant's MILK. The performance as gay rights icon Harvey Milk also garnered Penn "Best Actor" awards from The Screen Actors Guild, New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Penn has also received Best Actor awards at the Cannes (SHE’S SO LOVELY) and Berlin (DEAD MAN WALKING) Film Festivals, as well as being a two-time winner of Best Actor honors at the Venice Film Festival (HURLYBURLY, 21 GRAMS).

Penn's feature film directorial debut came with 1991's THE INDIAN RUNNER which he also wrote and produced. In 1995, he directed THE CROSSING GUARD, which he also wrote and produced. His third film as director/producer was the much anticipated adaptation of Durrenmatt’s THE PLEDGE starring Jack Nicholson and was named in the Top Ten Films of 2001 by The National Board of Review. Since then, Penn wrote and directed the United States contribution to the compilation film 11'09’'01 – SEPTEMBER 11. As writer, producer and director, INTO THE WILD marked Penn's fourth feature film, which opened to rave reviews in September 2007. The film, based on Jon Krakauer's best-selling non-fiction book, premiered at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and appeared on many lists of the top ten films of 2007.

Penn has appeared on stage in productions including Alfred Hayes' "Girl on the Via Flaminia" and Albert Innaurato's "Earthworms In Los Angeles." On Broadway, Penn performed in Kevin Heelan's "Heartland" and John Byrne's "Slab Boys." He appeared in David Rabe's "Hurlyburly," at the Westwood Playhouse, and "Goose and Tom Tom," at Lincoln Center, both productions directed by the author. Most recently, Penn starred opposite Nick Nolte and Woody Harrelson in "The Late Henry Moss," written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Sam Shepard.

Sean Penn is a man whose remarkable film career is matched only by his extraordinary and ongoing humanitarian pursuits that have helped improve so many lives. His humanitarian work has found him in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and more recently in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. In January 2010, Penn founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which focuses on medical aid, protection, and relocation. His organization is currently serving as UN IOM designated Camp Management for the largest IDP camp in Port-au-Prince and established the first emergency re-location in the country.

Sean Penn will receive the Golden Icon Award in person on September 28, 2011 at the corso cinema (20:30). Zurich Film Festival will also screen a selective retrospective in honor of this exceptional actor, director and producer.

Career Achievement Award: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Alejandro González Iñárritu was the first Mexican filmmaker to receive the best director award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination in the same category, both for BABEL. His stories, often told in elegant, intertwining episodes, deal with the game of chance and the uncertainty of life.


Born in Mexico City, Alejandro González Iñárritu directed and produced his debut feature film in 2000, Amores perros, which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film and received over 60 prizes becoming the most awarded film around the world in that year. In 2003, he produced and directed 21 Grams (2003), starring Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Naomi Watts. Both Del Toro and Watts received Oscar nominations for their roles in the film and Penn took home the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival 2003. In May 2006, Iñárritu completed his trilogy with his third feature film Babel, starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt. Babel earned him the Prix de la mise en scéne or Best Director Award at the 59th Cannes Film Festival and seven Oscar nominations including best Film and Best Director. His latest feature Biutiful, which he wrote and directed, was shot in Barcelona and got Javier Bardem the Best Actor Award at Cannes after the film premiered there in 2010. Biutiful was also nominated for a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards, for Best Foreign Film and Best Actor. Iñárritu also wrote, directed and produced three short films, “Powder Keg” (2001), “Darkness” (2002), which was part of the collective feature film 11'09"01, and “Anna” (2007), his piece from the 60th Cannes Film Festival collection for "To Each His Own Cinema". In 2011, his three-minute film called “Write the Future” for NIKE and the 2010 World Cup won the Gran Prix at Cannes Lions 2011 and won him Best Director at the 2011 AICP Awards.

A Tribute to ... Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis made a big name for himself first as screenwriter, and then as a director. He was closely involved in two successive Oscar-winning productions: in 2005 as the writer of the boxing film MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and the following year as the writer and director of the ensemble drama CRASH. 


Paul Haggis Portrait

Origins in TV Series

Born in 1953 in Ontario, Canada, Haggis did not start his career in cinema. For two decades he was the screenwriter, director and producer of various TV formats, including the highly successful ABC series ‘thirtysomething’ (1987–1991), and the ‘Tracey Ullman Show’. Haggis was the creator and writer of the cult Mafia series ‘EZ Streets’ (1996–1997), which despite its short run, broke new ground and catapulted him into the world of Hollywood. The influence of his work of that series is visible in shows such as THE SOPRANOS and THE WIRE. 

Analysis of Human Emotions

Haggis found his way into cinema with his debut film RED HOT (1993), a story about four Russian teenagers attempting to form the Soviet Union’s first rock ‘n’ roll band in 1959. Eight years later, Haggis returned with several new projects: firstly, he adapted F.X. Tool’s boxing story ‘Rope Burn’ for the film MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004), which he initially wanted to shoot himself before Clint Eastwood entered the project. This seemingly conventional sports film tells the tragic tale of a female boxer and her trainer, while cleverly avoiding all genre clichés. His successful collaboration with Clint Eastwood continued with FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006) and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006). Haggis also direct his hit movie CRASH in 2004, a challenging ensemble drama about prejudice and racism in present-day L.A., which won the Oscar for best film, best screenplay and best editing.

Flirting with Action Film

In the same year, Haggis was a leading member of the writing team working on the highly anticipated James Bond reboot CASINO ROYALE. This successful collaboration continued with QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). With his third cinema feature as a director, the thriller IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (2007), Haggis addressed the mysterious disappearance of a US soldier after returning from the war in Iraq. His most recent project, the action thriller THE NEXT THREE DAYS, was produced by his own company Highway 61.

Paul Haggis will be in Zurich to accept the A Tribute To… award personally on 01.10. The Zurich Film Festival will screen a retrospective of his most important films in honour of this exceptional director and screenwriter.