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Part of SFFILM Festival

Laura Dern: Tribute + “Trial by Fire”

Onstage Conversation & Screening

Sunday, April 14, 3:30 pm · Castro Theatre


Join us for a very special onstage tribute and conversation with actor, producer and activist Laura Dern, in which she will go in-depth on her work and career.


The conversation will be followed by a screening of Dern’s upcoming film Trial by Fire co-starring Jack O’Connell and directed by Edward Zwick.


The daughter of two of the most acclaimed actors of their generation, Laura Dern has become one of the most acclaimed actors of her own. Her breakthrough role as a teenager in thrall of a seductive man in Joyce Chopra’s Bay Area-set Smooth Talk (1985) established how deeply under the skin she can sink into her characters. A year later, she began one of her most fruitful professional alliances when David Lynch tapped into her girl-next-door appeal, her presence a sharp contrast to the depravity around her, in Blue Velvet (1986). Most recently, Dern demonstrated another side of herself in collaboration with Lynch as Dale Cooper’s fierce secretary Diane in Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). Dern has two Academy Award nominations, as a young Southern seductress in Rambling Rose (1991) and as Cheryl Strayed’s devoted, dying mother in Wild (2014). More recently, she won an Emmy for her extraordinarily shaded performance as control-freak businesswoman Renata in the HBO series Big Little Lies. Recent and upcoming roles reveal Dern’s magnificent range: a big-hearted death-row prisoner’s advocate in Edward Zwick’s Trial by Fire (2018), valiant Vice Admiral Hondo in The Last Jedi (2017), literary hoaxer Laura Albert in Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (2018), and genteel Marmee March in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019).

This special afternoon will feature a conversation covering Dern’s singular career, followed by a screening of Trial by Fire.

Trial by Fire
Edward Zwick, USA, 2018, 127 min
In Edward Zwick’s searing drama, adapted from a 2009 New Yorker article by David Grann, Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell) is charged with murder for the arson deaths of his three children and placed on death row. In the film’s second half, his pen-pal friendship with playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern), who becomes his advocate, takes center stage. Dern ignites the film as a woman determined to save an innocent man from execution. O’Connell’s performance is her equal, a portrait of a crude, violent man whose behavior makes it all too easy to assume his guilt. Based on a true story, Trial by Fire lays out how questionable testimony and ingrained prejudice can lead to a false conviction.

“Dern and O’Connell… form a compelling bond through a thick sheet of plexiglass. More than just an acting masterclass, the probing, delicate conversations between their characters build towards a harrowing tap dance between hope and surrender.” –David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Director Edward Zwick

Edward Zwick is a prolific director, writer, and producer for film and television. As a feature film director, his films have included his debut, About Last Night (1986); Glory (1989), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director; Leaving Normal (1992); Legends of the Fall (1994), for which he received a second Golden Globe nomination; Courage Under Fire (1996); The Siege (1998); The Last Samurai (2003); Blood Diamond (2006); Defiance (2008); Love & Other Drugs (2010); Pawn Sacrifice (2014); and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016). He has won a Best Picture Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1998), a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for Special Bulletin (1983), and a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1988 for Thirtysomething (1987-91).

Film Details

Year 2018

Language English

Runtime 127

Country USA

Director Edward Zwick

Producer Kipp Nelson, Alex Soros, Allyn Stewart, Edward Zwick

Writer Geoffrey Fletcher

Editor Steven Rosenblum

Cinematographer John Guleserian

Music Henry Jackman

Cast Laura Dern, Jack O’Connell, Emily Meade