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Spielberg receives ASU award for communication excellence

June 19, 2008

Steven Spielberg, a three-time Academy Award winner, is the 2008 recipient of Arizona State University’s Hugh Downs Award for Communication Excellence. His latest film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” starring Harrison Ford, opened in theaters worldwide late last month.

“This year’s award honors a master storyteller,” noted H.L. “Bud” Goodall Jr., director of ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. The award winner was announced June 19.

Spielberg, a founding partner of DreamWorks Studios, has written, directed or produced some of the top-grossing films of all time, including “Jurassic Park” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.”

Among his film honors are two Oscars for best director and best picture for “Schindler’s List” and a third Oscar for best director for “Saving Private Ryan.” Those movies also earned Spielberg Golden Globe Awards.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) presented Spielberg with its Lifetime Achievement Award, as did the American Film Institute. Spielberg has earned three DGA Awards and 10 DGA nominations – more than any other director in history.

In crafting the award narrative for the ASU honor, respected broadcast journalist Hugh Downs noted that Spielberg is “a man who has demonstrated the power of narratives to inform, persuade and entertain, all the while reminding us of how important it is to be able to respect the past in order to imagine a better future.

“In an age defined by new global communication and shaped by our use of new communication technologies, it is only right and fitting to honor an individual who has used film – and the innovations we associate with his films – to change how we think about our worlds, both real and imagined,” Downs wrote.

“The stories that are the soul of Steven’s films, and the technological advancements that have been created to touch the heart and appeal to our capacity for wonder, deserve to be recognized not only as achievements in the filmic arts, but moreover as superlative achievements of human storytelling and inspiration,” said Downs.

In accepting the award, Spielberg said: “It is a great honor for me to receive this award, for many reasons. First, it comes from Hugh Downs whose work as a communicator I have long admired and respected.

“Second, because the award recognized the significance of human communication, which is something we need more than ever in today’s world. And third, because the root of this award springs from Arizona, which has meant so much in my own early life. So thanks Hugh, and thanks Arizona State University,” Spielberg said.

As a teenager, Spielberg lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended Arcadia High School in Phoenix for several years, before moving to California. While at Arcadia, Spielberg wrote and directed a science fiction movie, “Firelight.”

In addition to filmmaking, Spielberg has devoted his time and resources to several philanthropic causes. According to biographical notes on the DreamWorks Web site, “the impact of his experience making ‘Schindler’s List,’ led him to establish the Righteous Persons Foundation using all his profits from the film. He also founded Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has recorded more than 52,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies. In 2005, the Foundation’s repository of testimonies were transferred to the University of Southern California. The new USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education will be dedicated to research and scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

Spielberg is the second recipient of the Hugh Downs Award for Communication Excellence. Last year, the honor went to Larry King, host of CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

The idea behind the award came from school alumna Jeanne Lind Herberger who wanted to honor the school’s namesake by establishing an annual award to commemorate Downs’ legacy.

Downs has experience as a television host, producer and author. He is a living legend among American communicators, according to Goodall.

Downs served as anchor of “20/20,” host of “The Today Show,” announcer for “The Tonight Show with Jack Paar” and co-host of the PBS talk show “Not for Women Only.”

The Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences exists to advance the understanding of message-related human behavior for the purpose of improving communicative interactions.

“Through the study and critique of human communication, we generate knowledge, creativity and understanding to facilitate healthy relationships and workplaces, civil and secure communities; and constructive intercultural interactions,” Goodall said. “We teach more than 16,000 students per year and we’re proud of our top-tier doctoral program.”

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