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School of Theatre and Film professor wins coveted Humanitas Prize

September 25, 2012

Gregory Bernstein, a newly appointed professor in ASU's School of Theatre and Film, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, won the coveted 2012 Humanitas Prize for co-writing "The Conspirator," a film directed by Robert Redford.

Bernstein was nominated in the Humanitas Prize feature film category along with writers for "Hugo," "The Descendants" and "Shame."

“The Humanitas Prize is a prestigious award given for television and film writers whose stories and characters affirm the dignity of the human person, explore the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom and reveal to each person our common humanity,’’ said Jacob Pinholster, associate professor and director of the ASU School of Theatre and Film, and interim director of the School of Dance, in announcing the award to the school’s faculty, staff and students. “Past winners include 'The King’s Speech,' 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Crash' and 'The Shawshank Redemption,' so this is very exalted company.”

Bernstein began writing The Conspirator – the story of Mary Surratt and the young attorney who defends her for being accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln – in 1993 with fellow American Film Institute classmate James Solomon. 

A self-described Civil War buff and a graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles Law School, Bernstein was drawn to the story of this middle-aged Southern woman and the young Union officer called to represent her before a military tribunal and the compelling issues this piece of history raised.

“As a Civil War buff I knew about the trial and the Union officer who suddenly had to defend Mary Surratt, this Catholic woman and Southerner,’’ Bernstein said. “There was a great deal of prejudice in general toward Southern women who were often thought to be harboring spies. That Mary Surratt was a Southern woman and a Catholic made her an easy target given that the men who conspired to kill Lincoln met and made plans in her boarding house. I thought that was interesting.’’

When his name was called during the Sept. 14th awards luncheon at the Montage Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, Bernstein said he felt not only surprised but extremely lucky.

“It validates an effort made to do a project not overtly commercial and that’s a necessary thing to do every now and then," he said.

Bernstein, who teaches beginning screenwriting, the business of media industries and great film directors and performers in the ASU School of Theatre and Film, also has written "Trial and Error," starring Jeff Daniels and Charlize Theron; "Call Me Claus," starring Whoopi Goldberg; and "One Day in Dallas," which he also directed. In addition to his writing and directing credits, Bernstein was vice president of business affairs at Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Lorimar Telepictures. He was assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, west.

His next writing project also includes two of his passions: history and the law.