Headed over to the ole U last night for the award ceremony of the annual SunDeis film festival. Mostly, it was because Jesse L. Martin and S. Epatha Merkerson were going to be there; she was being recognized as the “Entertainer of the Year,” and he was presenting the award to her. Given that I hadn’t seen a single film in the festival, the ceremony was hit and miss for me as far as entertainment value. There were the expected (and bad) Brokeback Mountain jokes, and other expected jokes, like when the music director was presenting an award and he kept getting “interrupted” by the orchestra. But some speeches were genuinely good, including the Best Actress winner, who made hysterical reference to Martin and Merkerson sitting right in front of the podium. Others ran the gamut from low-key student humble, to cocky “You’ll all be working for me soon” ego, which was a bit of a buzzkill, since some of these folks didn’t even go to Brandeis.
When it was Martin’s turn, he didn’t disappoint. The festival coordinator introduced him by saying what award he was there to present, but really, “how do you measure … measure a year?” And then Martin just riffed for five minutes on his good friend, talking about her unparalleled ability to curse, about her having been on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (as Reba the mail lady), and about their car accident earlier in the day — making sure to show off that he was fine. Then Merkerson took the stage and the two became a classic comedy duo. There was a winking admission that she always brings her “brother” Jesse L. Martin with her because she only seems to get press coverage when he’s with her. And Merkerson also revealed that she initially thought she was getting an award from Barnard College, which is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But she and Martin were excited to arrive in Boston and to have a white stretch limo waiting for them, courtesy of the festival. “I said to Jesse, ‘We’re going to the prom!'” she recalled. She did her S. Epatha Merkerson thing, which we all saw when she won the Golden Globe, the SAG award, and the Emmy, only here it was looser and more profane, and just plain funny. Clearly, both felt like this was the most random thing they’d done in a long time. I’m sure there’ll be a video clip on the SunDeis web site soon.
Also in attendance were Anita Hill (left), now a Brandeis professor, who acted as official ambassador for the university before the show began, and lifetime achievement award recipients Celeste Holm (Gentleman’s Agreement, above) and Margaret O’Brien (Meet Me in St. Louis). For a student film festival in Waltham, Mass., it was an impressive evening.