January 23rd, 2008
12:26 PM ET
From CNN Entertainment Producer Matt Carey:
A terrible pall has been cast over the Sundance Film Festival by the shocking death of Heath Ledger. The festival is just days away from handing out its awards, but the normally celebratory mood has been replaced by a feeling of sadness and almost dread. Everyone around here looks like they’ve been kicked in the stomach.
A lot of stars with films at the festival had a personal connection to Ledger - no one more so than his ex-fiancee Michelle Williams, whose Sundance film is "Incendiary." She never came to Park City to promote it. But Naomi Watts, who was romantically involved with him at one point and co-starred with Ledger in "Ned Kelly," was in town when the news hit. She later canceled all of her interviews to promote her film, "Funny Games."
Some stars here have been gracious enough to share their feelings about Ledger as an actor and a person. Lukas Haas, who told us he had met Ledger several times, described him as a "very sweet" person. Jacqueline Bissett (who, like Haas, stars in the Sundance film "Death in Love") said she met Ledger in Venice, Italy, where he premiered his film "Casanova." She called him an actor of tremendous talent and potential.
Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci ("Blind Date") also paid tribute to him as a performer. Tucci said he was especially impressed by Ledger’s work in "Brokeback Mountain," which earned Ledger his only Oscar nomination.
The Sundance Film Festival hasn’t been pleased with reporters asking questions about Ledger. When we came to the premiere of "Death in Love" Tuesday evening, a Sundance press officer threatened to revoke our credentials if we asked any questions about the late actor. She said we were there only to ask questions about the film. I find that akin to someone in the White House telling the press corps what they can and can’t ask the President. I don't think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask in public settings.
It's difficult to ask stars for their thoughts on such an occasion and yet I can't help thinking, who better to characterize an actor's contributions than a fellow actor? In times of tragedy people take comfort from hearing what others are feeling and thinking on the matter, and it's really in that spirit that I ask - not out of a salacious desire to pry.
None of this is meant to imply that members of the media should ask questions in anything but a sensitive and respectful manner. And I respect any star's right to decline to answer a question, be it about Heath Ledger or any other issue. But to prevent us from asking is a form of prior restraint.
- Matt Carey
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