Steven Knight, Tony Kushner, Jacob Aaron Estes and Barbara Hall were among the film and TV writers honored Thursday at the 30th Humanitas Prize Luncheon.
The Humanitas Prize in feature film was bestowed on Knight for the script of the Miramax feature "Dirty Pretty Things," the story of two immigrants in London who discover an illegal body parts-for-passports trade in the hotel they work in.
Kushner received the TV award in the 90-minute or longer category for HBO's epic adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS crisis, "Angels in America." The two categories each carried a prize of $25,000.
Established in 1974, the Humanitas Prize recognizes television and motion picture writers whose work honestly explores the complexities of the human experience and sheds light on the positive values of life.
The $10,000 Sundance feature film category prize went to Jacob Aaron Estes for Paramount Classics' "Mean Creek."
Hall won the $15,000 prize for the 60-minute television category for penning the pilot for the much-praised CBS drama "Joan of Arcadia," revolving around a 16-year-old girl who talks to God. Hall said the Humanitas is more important than ever in an era of primetime where reality television is so pervasive.
"There is a lot of public humiliation and cutting people down, and undercutting the importance of human beings (in these shows)" Hall said. "I really wanted to do something that said people are important to each other and everybody is worthy of dignity and self-respect."
JacQui Clay took home the 30-minute television category prize of $10,000 for the episode of Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show" titled "Saving Sergeant Tompkins."
The $10,000 children's animation prize went to Chris Nee for the "I Can Sign/The Sign for Friend" episode of Nickelodeon's now canceled "Little Bill."
"In the animation world, we are not covered by the guilds, and so for me, this money will help my bottom line," said Nee, who also noted that writers are quick to leave the world of children's animation because the financial rewards are slim and that few writers have the clout to command a cut of licensing and merchandising revenues.
In the children's live-action category, Toni Ann Johnson was awarded the $10,000 prize for Showtime's "Crown Heights." This is Johnson's second Humanitas prize.
Christopher Carlson, a student in Columbia University's graduate film program, received the 2004 David and Lynn Angell Humanitas comedy fellowship with a $10,000 stipend. His winning comedy spec script was an episode of "Scrubs."
Frank Desiderio, president of the Humanitas Prize, started off by giving a State of the Prize address marking how far the organization has come in 30 years. He laid out a new fund-raising campaign to increase the prize money for children's writers and endow an annual workshop for children's writers and executives.
"The work of storytellers is a sacred vocation," Desiderio said. "A good story will leave people with some insight into themselves and give them a vision or glimpse of how to better themselves. Good stories give people a glimpse into something deeper than themselves. ... And today we honor excellent stories."
Among those attending were Ed Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, John Wells, Arthur Hiller, "Garden State" producer Pam Abdy, "Joan of Arcadia" exec producer James Hayman and Helen Shaver. Charles Hauck was master of ceremonies.