From Reading to Venice: the stellar career of director Sam Mendes | Film | DW | 31.08.2016
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From Reading to Venice: the stellar career of director Sam Mendes

Since his outstanding debut film "American Beauty" in 1999, British director Sam Mendes has directed several blockbusters, including two James Bond films. This year, he heads the jury of the Venice Film Festival.

Sam Mendes is one of the few directors to ever have been given an Academy Award for Best Film for his directing debut. Aged 34 at the time, he was also one of the youngest directors to have ever been awarded the prize.

The British director remembers that when he held the Oscar in his hands, which he won for his 1999 film "American Beauty," he could hardly believe his luck. Mendes had already been enjoying a great reputation at the time for his work in theater, which he has continued to be involved in despite directing and producing a number of further films, including two parts of the James Bonds franchise.

Next stop: Venice

This year, biennial president Alberto Barbera invited Mendes to Venice to head the jury of the world's oldest film festival. Barbera announced at the festival's press conference in April that Mendes had been his favorite candidate for the job, as his films had all met the expectations of critics while also reaching broader audiences.

Mendes and that jury will get to decide, which films will receive the prestigious Golden and Silver Lions on September 10.

Filmstill American Beauty by Sam Mendes, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/Enterpress_Uip

Kevin Spacey and Thora Birch in Sam Mendes' debut film "American Beauty"

Born in Reading outside London in 1965, Sam Mendes appeared to have dramaturgy in his genes, with both his parents being writers. He started staging plays already in his early 20s and by the time he was 27 managed his own theatre. His impressive biography includes works for the "Royal Shakespeare Company" and the "Royal National Theatre."

His crossover into film started with his increasing involvement in musical theatre; in 1993, he directed an adaptation of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical "Cabaret" for British television. After another television film, Steven Spielberg discovered Mendes' enormous talent and invited him to Hollywood.

Sensational debut an onward career

In 1999, Mendes directed "American Beauty" with Spielberg's production company. Starring Kevin Spacey, the film takes a critical look at American suburban life with its prudish tendencies and repressed desires. "American Beauty" received five Academy Awards, making Sam Mendes a star overnight.

Filmstill Jarhead by director Sam Mendes, Copyright: picture-alliance/KPA

Jamie Foxx (l.) and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Jarhead"

Three years later, his second film hit movie theatres: "Road to Perdition" is a somber gangster story set in a small town in Illinois in the 1930s. Despite a star-studded case featuring Tom Hanks, Jude Law as well as the late Paul Newman in his last role, his second movie received less attention from critics than "American Beauty" did. Still, "Road to Perdition" got nominated for six Oscars and won one in the category of "Best Camera."

Another three years later, Sam Mendes directed "Jarhead," dealing with the disillusionment of a US soldier during the first Gulf War. In 2008, Mendes celebrated another major success with "Revolutionary Road" starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. The screen drama was hailed both by critics and audiences. But soon after the movie's premiere, Mendes and his wife, Kate Winslet, with whom he had been married since 2003, separated.

Filmstill James Bond Skyfall by director Sam Mendes, Copyright: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Sony Pictures/F. Duhamel

Daniel Craig as James Bond in "Skyfall"

Huge success with James Bond films

Following the divorce, a new chapter began in the life of the British director: Sam Mendes was chosen as the next director for the James Bond franchise, proving his genius at directing once more. "Skyfall" (2012) and "Spectre" (2015) were both highly grossing box office hits that also received excellent reviews. Mendes' attempt to revive the ageing spy's image led to superb results.

Despite his huge success, Mendes refused to continue as director for the Bond films and at age 50, rather set out to get involved in a new project. His next film will reportedly be "The Voyeur's Hotel," based on the namesake novel by Gay Talese and produced by Steven Spielberg.

Sam Mendes in a new role as head of the Venice jury

But first, the British director will have to sit down and watch dozens of movies with his renowned jury colleagues over the next ten days at the Venice Film Festival. On September 10, Mendes is due to get up on the stage of the festival palace in Venice to announce the lucky winners of the Golden and Silver Lions.

As head of the jury, Mendes will have to judge works by some of his most recognized contemporaries, including outstanding directors such as Wim Wenders, Emir Kusturica, Tom Ford and François Ozon.

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