The Duke LEAF Award Weekend


On Saturday April 21st, John received the the Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts (LEAF) Award from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

To see a slideshow of photos taken by Duke photographers Megan Moor and Jon Gardiner, click here.

The award, now in its fourth year, “has been given annually to an artist whose work has lifted the human spirit by conveying our profound spiritual and material connection to the Earth, thereby inspiring others to help forge a more sustainable future for all.”  In addition to a weekend packed with awards-related events, Duke hosted screenings of Matewan, Sunshine State, and Amigo during the first half of April.

To learn more about why John was selected for this prestigious honor, I refer you to an article in the Huffington Post, written by Dean William Chameides of the Nicholas School.

“His use of sense of place and the land as the context for the human dramas that unfold in his narratives; the interweaving of environmental themes and conflicts with themes of human conflict and struggle, ultimately compelling us to confront on a visceral as well as intellectual level our strong material and spiritual connection to the land and, in the process inspiring us to value and steward our environment.”

Read the full article by clicking here.

Maggie and your faithful John Sayles blogger were on hand in North Carolina last weekend for all the fun.

On Friday April 20th, the von der Heyden Pavillion on Duke’s West Campus was the elegant site of the Duke LEAF Award Reception and Dinner.


Photos from the von der Heyden Pavillion



John with Thomas Rankin and Erin Espelie



John and his brother, Douglas Sayles


The evening consisted of a delicious meal, fantastic conversations with Duke faculty and members of the Nicholas School Board of Visitors, and a wonderful performance piece by Mike Wiley and Mike Taylor that brought John’s screenplay for Matewan alive in a truly vibrant way through reading and music.


John, Mike Wiley, Maggie, and Mike Taylor


The next morning, Duke’s Center for Documentary Film Studies hosted a brunch and Q&A with John, moderated by Thomas Rankin.


John with moderator Thomas Rankin


The food was great, the questions were thought-provoking, and the faculty and students were wonderful to meet.  I recorded some of the highlights from the session, and have begun uploading them to the brand new John Sayles YouTube ChannelHere is one excellent example: John speaking about the reasons human beings tell stories.


After the Documentary Film Studies brunch, it was time for the LEAF Awards Ceremony proper, hosted by Dean Chameides.


The Duke LEAF Award


The ceremony featured entertainment by the Jon Shain Trio, Duke’s Latin Dance Troupe Sabrosura, screening of clips from John’s movies, and wonderful speeches from Dean Chameides of the Nicholas School, Ariel Dorfman (Chair of Literature and Latin American Studies), and Richard H. Brodhead (President of Duke University).  The speakers did an excellent job of bringing the environmental themes of John’s movies to the fore, and also applauded Maggie for her work as producer (and occasional actress) on 14 of those 17 films.


John and Maggie and Dean Chameides with the LEAF Award


After accepting the stunning, sculptural LEAF Award, John gave a short reading from A Moment in the Sun, which was met with a standing ovation by the roughly 400 attendees.


John's reading at the LEAF Awards


Then it was off to a book signing with more good food, and more great conversation.


Post-LEAF Ceremony Book Signing


I can actually speak from first-hand experience about this weekend in Durham: the people were wonderful, the food was fantastic, and the hospitality was top-notch.  Thanks so much to Duke University, The Nicholas School, and our fabulous hosts Dean Bill and Bonnie Chameides for a delightful weekend coupled with a wonderful and (in this blogger’s opinion) richly deserved honor.

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A message from John & Maggie

What a great time we had on the YELLOW EARTH book tour. We loved seeing all of our old friends. Lots of hugging and kissing and shaking of hands. That was then! We were very lucky to return home – la

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