Ben Affleck presented the world premiere of his new film air at the South by Southwest Film & TV Festival in Austin on Saturday and quickly made it clear how much he wanted his Amazon Studios project to succeed.
“Tonight is the most important night of my professional life,” Affleck declared from the stage while referring to previous projects that weren’t very popular. “This is an optimistic, hopeful film about people. So I can’t hide behind the author – [as if to say] “you don’t have to understand my movie.” I Really hope you like it… So no pressure, but it’s all on you.”
Affleck has directed and acted air, a biographical drama about Nike’s revolutionary creation of the Air Jordan shoe line. Judging by the reaction of the premiere audience, Affleck needn’t have worried about its reception – the film and its cast full of scene stores received rapturous applause. air Matt Damon is the Nike executive who signed Michael Jordan to his first sneaker contract. Affleck stars as Nike CEO Phil Knight, and the film also stars Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker and Chris Messina.
Damon called his role — and the reunion with his “best friend” and longtime collaborator Affleck — “the greatest job I’ve ever had.”
– I came there every day and I had from five to seven [script] pages to do opposite actors like that, it was ridiculous,” Damon said. “I’ve never had more fun. Ben and I — from the moment we read [Alex Convery’s] the script to the cuts we made in our final edit – it was just an absolute joy.”
Davis — who Affleck called “the best actress I’ve ever seen” — talked about what playing Jordan’s protective, business-savvy mother, Deloris, meant to her. Deloris and my mother were born into a generation of people whose dream was their children. It’s the height of Jim Crow. Black people were told that their dreams didn’t matter. So far, her big vision for the boy and believing in it with all her heart is kind of miraculous. It was an honor to play for Delor.
Bateman seemed surprised by the audience’s reaction to the film: “I couldn’t believe the amount of shouting and screaming [during the screening],” he said. “What Ben and Matt were able to do with this story … it’s an American business story and they turned it into a rock show. They were able to somehow enhance the meaning of Michael Jordan to all of us — which was already the height of greatness and excitement. I never think about Michael Jordan or Air Jordans in the same way because Ben was able to do with this movie and create that feeling that we all had.
In a rather bold creative choice, Jordan himself is not featured directly in the film, which Affleck explained was an effort to avoid the actor impersonating the larger-than-life living legend that audiences were already so familiar with. “There was no way I was going to ask the public to believe that someone else was Michael Jordan,” he said. “Which was frankly for my own good because I knew it would ruin the movie.” He also added, “This is not a documentary. This is not intended to be a complete history of who did what and said what…all mistakes in the film are mine.”
Affleck said he showed the film to the real Phil Knight, “and halfway through I realized it might have been a giant mistake,” given how the film somewhat satirizes the Nike founder. “But people want to make fun of the boss, that’s part of the workplace culture,” he said. “I’ve been known to appear in the occasional meme.”
However, he said he avoided contact with Nike and its executives during the film’s development and production. “I didn’t want to contact or accept anything from Nike because I didn’t want to be accused of doing propaganda or advertising or changing anything to get them favor.” Still, it’s hard to imagine Nike not being thrilled by the film’s highly positive portrayal of their company.
In The Hollywood reporterIn Affleck’s current cover story profile, the actor-director talked about the film and how he approached directing a film where corporate America intersects with black culture. “I wouldn’t make a movie whose central premise is the appropriation of black culture for profit by white Americans,” he said. “It’s not my film. I’m telling a story that’s a combination of things, and this is one part of it. I’m not going to leave it out, because to leave it will add more disrespect. I’m going to talk to people who understand it better than I do and who can help me to contextualize it, and it was [costume designer] Charles [Antoinette Jones], it was Viola. Chris [Tucker], he gave me monologues, he gave me scenes, and it was very organic. And so I was like, “I want Chris to get paid as a writer, too.” I want to make it clear that he is participating in this film.”
air will be the first Amazon movie to be released theatrically without a simultaneous release on Prime Video. The film arrives in theaters on April 5.