Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  June 26, 2002 at 5:06 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, June 26 (UPI) -- The spirit of Father Ellwood (Bud) Kieser lives on with the 28th anniversary this week of the Humanitas Prizes.

The late Roman Catholic Priest founded the prizes in 1974 to stimulate writers of movies and TV shows to produce scripts that enrich as well as entertain.

Over the years Humanitas (Latin for Humanity) prizes rewarded screenplays and teleplays projecting human dignity and inspirational idealism.

Although Kieser, a career priest, did not reward preachy, religion-oriented scripts, he sought stories dealing with physical, mental and moral courage in the face of challenges.

Granted, Hollywood hasn't been mistaken for Eden, so Kieser campaigned for significant fare in an industry noted for bawdy, violent and scatological claptrap.

The towering (6-foot-6), heavyset cleric, whose florid face was generally wreathed in a smile, succeeded in helping to encourage many inspiring scripts during his lifetime. It was feared more than a year ago when Kieser died that the Humanitas Prizes might die with him.

But under the leadership of his replacement, Father Frank Desiderio, new president of the Humanitas Prize, the program has gone smoothly forward.

Tuesday several financial awards totaling $130,000 were presented at the Humanitas annual luncheon at the Hilton Universal Hotel attended by more than 200 Hollywoodians.

Desiderio told those present, "After Sept. 11 television and film writers helped us to think about our world" (in a new and enlightened manner).

This year the top prize of $25,000 went to writers Richard Eyre and Charles Wood for "Iris," a Miramax Films drama of an aged couple starring Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch and Jim Broadbent as John Bayley.

Also nominated in the feature film category was Universal's "A Beautiful Mind," starring Russell Crowe and written by Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for the script; and "I Am Sam" starring Sean Penn and written by Kristine Johnson and Jessie Nelson for New Line Cinema.

Winner in the Sundance Feature Film category ($10,000) was "Real Women Have Curves" written by George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez.

Top TV prizes ($25,000) for a 9-minute or longer network show was "Anne Frank," written by Kirk Ellis, and "The Laramie Project" written by Moises Kaufman in the PBS/Cable category.

Episodes of two weekly TV series, "The Practice" and "West Wing" carried off $15,000 each.

They were won by the "Honor Code" episode of "The Practice" written by Lukas Reiter and David E. Kelly; and "Two Cathedrals" of "West Wing" written by Aaron Sorkin.

"My Old Lady," a sitcom episode of "Scrubs," won $10,000 for writer Matt Tarses.

In the Children's category the winner was "My Louisiana Sky" ($10,000) for writer Anna Sandor, and the animated "Balto II, Wolf Quest" ($10,000) won by writer Dev Ross.

The principle purpose of the Humanitas Prizes, according to founder Kieser, was to provide a place for balanced programming in motion pictures and television production to counter the overwhelming number of stories demonstrating man's inhumanity to man.

"There is room for the entire scope of mankind's infinity of good and evil behavior," Kieser liked to say. "The idea here is to demonstrate that there is much good in the hearts and souls of men and women of all cultures as there is amoral and selfish attitudes."

In keeping with Kieser's tenets, Father Desiderio said, "The remarkable stories told by the nominees for the Humanitas Prize deal with people ... and how they and those who love them meet those challenges with courage and compassion."

As in past Humanitas programs, this year's winners of prizes made inspiring acceptance speeches that often addressed the positive side of writing profound screenplays, and how willingly producers convert them to the screen.

Father Kieser liked to say, "Each of us is a replica of God. Each of us is a dwelling place of God and that gives us tremendous dignity.

"The prize also propels us on a search for meaning, for freedom, for love and human dignity, for unity with all our fellow human beings."

Kieser, whose parish was in Westwood, moved to Los Angeles in 1956 and used television in his adult education classes.

He soon became producer of Paulist Productions, which made more than 100 "Insight" TV shows in the 1970s and '80s seen on some 150 TV stations nationwide.

All of them were made on a shoestring with Kieser scrounging studio space, lighting equipment, cameras and other movie paraphernalia at little or no cost from predominantly Jewish filmmakers in the industry.

He was tireless in seeking donations from Protestants, Catholics and nonsectarian sources to finance his projects.

The high quality of his shows attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood's acting fraternity to participate in his shows and as often as not Kieser would encourage them to donate their salaries to the cause.

Clearly, his spirit, like Humanitas, continues unabated.

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