Independent Film: Film Festival’s Choice for Excellence Award is Ringer: Debra Winger


Debra Winger in “A Dangerous Woman”. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The Maine International Film Festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award is my kind of film material. The cheeky name aside, it’s a real movie-goer’s award, a well-deserved gesture of gratitude to someone in the film industry who gave us all lots of great movie memories.

This year’s MIFF (which will take place in July) has just announced that its highest honor goes to actress Debra Winger. And there’s no one out there who I think is more deserving, especially in this historic 25th season of MIFF.

Debra Winger will be the recipient of this year’s Mid-Life Achievement Award from the Maine International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Debra Winger

Winger will join the ranks of former Mid-Life Achievement Award winners such as Gabriel Byrne, Terrence Malick, Jonathan Demme, Sissy Spacek, Lili Taylor, Walter Hill and others when she receives her award at the July 15 ceremony. (after a screening of her 1993 film “A Dangerous Woman”). And while the three-time Oscar nominee doesn’t exactly need another honor (despite being robbed at least once on Oscar night), it’s especially fitting that Maine International, with its commitment to both for quality filmmaking and artistic independence, brings the acclaimed actor to Maine for a well-deserved bow.

If you haven’t thought of Debra Winger in a while, well, you’re not me. But I understand, as an actor, after rising to fame in films like 1980’s “Urban Cowboy,” 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman” and 1983’s “Terms of Endearment,” universally beloved finally moved away from big budget films. After starring alongside Billy Crystal in the 1995 mid-romantic comedy “Forget Paris” (Winger is awesome in it), the actor went on a six-year hiatus. She didn’t stop acting – Winger did theater and eventually appeared in independent dramas directed by and with husband Arliss Howard – but she retired from an industry she had found particularly troublesome early on. the beginning.

The near-demise of such a respected entertainer from film saw fellow actress (and dissatisfied woman in show biz) Rosanna Arquette lead a 2001 documentary titled “Searching for Debra Winger,” where Arquette interviewed a dazzling list of actresses on the particularly ugly treatment of women in entertainment. Eventually, sitting down with Winger herself, Arquette asked Winger to explain her decision, even as Winger expressed some bewilderment at being the ostensible subject of the film. Speaking of the role of passion in your life, Winger tells Arquette, “It’s whatever melts your heart, keeps you sweet and keeps you open.” This is what you should follow. And show business just made me rough and tough.

“Urban Cowboy” made Debra Winger a star at 21. Quickly establishing herself as an actress of surprising intelligence (and passion), Winger is one of those performers that viewers take in. We internalize his characters as they, in Winger’s guttural yet playful voice, make the kind of acting choices that ignite sparks. Debra Winger grabs our attention, even though her thoughtful, headstrong characters never seem to try.

Along the way to his semi-retirement in 1995, many things proved just how tough and difficult show business is. Being labeled as “difficult” might see male stars like Dustin Hoffman or Edward Norton praised for their exacting artistic standards, but women in the business don’t enjoy the same courtesy. Even at the height of her fame, Winger spoke out when, in an instance she reveals in Arquette’s film, “An Officer and a Gentleman” super-producer Don Simpson handed the 24-year-old actor diet pills after watching the dailies.

She refused to promote movies (like the smash hit “Gentleman”) that she felt didn’t live up to her expectations. She complained when studios buried fascinating and thought-provoking indie films like 1984’s “Mike’s Murder” or the mysterious 1990 mystery “Everybody Wins.” (About Winger’s unstable sex worker persona in the latter, legendary critic Pauline Kael marveled, “She’s always acting things out on a stage of her own making. She’s out of control, and Winger gives back her irrationality, passionately real…She’s all feminine and formless—she can become anything at any time.”) Winger even turned down guaranteed success when, after training with the Chicago Cubs for a month in preparation for the lead role in “A League of Their Own,” she dropped out when director Penny Marshall hired non-actress Madonna for a pivotal supporting role.

Winger took no shit, that’s what I’m saying.

Thankfully, Winger has returned to acting, on her own terms. She was excellent in Jonathan Demme’s 2008 Mid-Life Achievement Award-winning “Rachel Getting Married.” And she and actor-writer Tracy Letts had a good match as a longtime married adulterer couple. in “The Lovers” in 2017. More recently, Netflix viewers might recognize her as the estranged matriarch and bar owner of “The Ranch,” making a seductive and prickly match with Sam Elliott.

Meanwhile, Winger, seemingly like her most memorable characters, lives by her own rules and makes choices based on what she thinks is best for her and the projects she chooses. Her choice as the recipient of the Maine International Film Festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award is a credit to the festival and to Winger herself.

The 25th Maine International Film Festival takes place July 8-17 in Waterville, with the Mid-Life Achievement Award going to Debra Winger on Friday, July 15 at the Waterville Opera House. For tickets to this essential Maine film event, check out

To catch up on Debra Winger’s varied and uniformly excellent filmography (I highly recommend starting with ‘Mike’s Murder’, ‘Terms of Endearment’, ‘Shadowlands’, ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Everybody Wins’), the streaming availability site JustWatch will point you in the right directions.

Dennis Perkins lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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