David O. Russell '81E
Doctor of Humane Letters
David O. Russell came to filmmaking late, after working for several years as a
political organizer in Latin America, Maine and Boston. But the three films he
has written and directed in the last eight years have placed him squarely in the
top ranks of contemporary filmmakers.
Russell's work is wide-ranging in subject and scope, but characterized by
a restless intelligence and a distinctive brand of anarchic humor. His first feature,
Spanking the Monkey, premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, where
it won the Audience Award. Widely (mis)labeled as Russell's "incest
movie," it also received Independent Spirit Awards (the Oscars of independent
film) for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay.
For his 1996 feature, Flirting with Disaster, Russell worked with an ensemble
cast that included Ben Stiller, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda, and Mary Tyler Moore in
an antic exploration of family and identity. The film was named to dozens of critics'
top-10 lists and earned Russell an opportunity to work with a major studio on
his third feature.
Three Kings appeared in 1999 and was the first film exploring U.S. involvement
in the Gulf War. A kinetic mix of politics, technical flair, rapid-fire dialogue
and black humor, Three Kings was named to more than 100 year's-best
lists. The film screened at the White House, and then-President Bill Clinton later
said it was one of the year's best movies.
Earlier this year, Russell's films became part of the permanent collection
at the Museum of Modern Art, which named Russell as the inaugural honoree in its
"Work in Progress" series recognizing younger filmmakers.
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