June 8, 2023 By John Schilling
The Museum of Moving Image in Astoria honored actor and activist Michael J. Fox during its annual gala event, the Spring Moving Image Awards, on Tuesday, June 6.
Hosted in the museum’s Sumner M. Redstone Theater, the ceremony recognized Fox’s on-screen work, as well as the success of his foundation for Parkinson’s research by presenting the five-time Emmy Award-winning actor with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“For generations of us, he is our every man,” said Michael Barker, the co-chairman of the museum’s board of trustees and co-president of Sony Pictures Classics. “He is us, we are him thrust into larger-than-life, emotional, often intense, adventurous situations. He gets to each of us collectively and personally.”
First diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, Fox kept it quiet until 1998 when he became outspoken about finding a cure for the disease. Fox’s budding advocacy led him to launch the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000, which has since raised over $1.5 billion.
In the years preceding his diagnosis, Fox rose to fame playing Alex P. Keaton in “Family Ties” and Marty McFly in the “Back To The Future” trilogy. Fox’s other film work includes “The Secret of My Success,” “Doc Hollywood,” “Casualties of War,” and “The American President,” as well as his leading television role on “Spin City.”
To help present Fox with the award, Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese made a surprise appearance during the ceremony and praised Fox’s early success.
“It was like watching a rocket take off, soaring higher and higher and brighter and brighter,” Scorsese said. “I am stunned by the energy and force of his presence.”
Most recently, Fox starred in “STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” a documentary on Apple TV+ that highlights his career trajectory while also confronting his private battle with Parkinson’s in the years that followed his diagnosis.
During the ceremony, Davis Guggenheim, the director of “STILL,” summed up Fox as a “character” in the film, pointing to the moment Fox first noticed his pinky twitching, learned that he had Parkinson’s disease, and “ran” from it for many years until it became too severe to ignore.
“He chooses to stop running,” Guggenheim said. “And slowly over time with therapy and deep, deep soul searching, he learns to accept himself, and an interesting thing happens. His work blossoms.”
Upon receiving the award, Fox reiterated this positive outlook, making clear that his Parkinson’s disease has not crushed his spirit or creativity.
“What I like about sitting here tonight is it seems to be about acting and about film, and I love acting and I love film,” Fox said. “This is my life and I have so many great things in my life.”
Fox was not the only honoree at the June 6 event, as the Museum of Moving Image also honored New York City-based documentary filmmaker John Wilson with an award for “Innovative Series.”
Wilson is the creator, director, executive producer, and narrator of “How To with John Wilson,” an HBO documentary television series in which Wilson secretly films the lives of New Yorkers while offering advice. This pairing makes for Wilson’s signature docu-comedy style that exists throughout the series, which will premiere its third and final season next month.
“Some shots are objectively funny, but there’s always a bit of a hidden joke inside of everything,” Wilson said. “It’s a nice way to trojan horse a message a lot of the time.”
Before presenting Wilson with his award, Grammy Award-winning artist David Byrne took the stage and recalled working with Wilson on “Contemporary Color,” a 2016 documentary featuring high school color guard groups paired with contemporary musicians. This experience is highlighted in Wilson’s “Temporary Color,” which highlights his own experience involved in the color guard project.
During the production of “Contemporary Color,” however, Byrne didn’t know that Wilson was also simultaneously filming for and working on “Temporary Color,” something he found out much later.
“Eventually, somebody told me,” Byrne joked. “I watched it and it’s hilarious and I loved it.”
After accepting the award, Wilson, who was born in Astoria, praised the Museum of Moving Image for the role it played in his childhood, recalling frequent visits during his childhood and referring to it as his “playground.”
“It was really important during such a critical developmental phase of my life,” Wilson said. “I just love that Moving Image had both the museum quality but also this interactive quality…I don’t know where I’d be without that.”
Wilson’s sentiment was shared by Fox, who credited the Museum of Moving Image for keeping the medium alive.
“I love that this museum exists,” Fox said. “We have a better appreciation for film.”