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Ben Affleck premieres ‘Air’ at SXSW: “Most important night of my professional life”

Ben Affleck screened the world premiere of his new film Sky at South by Southwest Film & TV Festival in Austin on Saturday and was quick to make it clear how badly he wanted his Amazon Studios project to succeed.

“Tonight is the most important night of my professional life,” Affleck declared from the stage, making some self-deprecating references to past projects that weren’t very popular. “This is an optimistic, hopeful film about people. So I can’t hide behind being an author – [as if to say] “you don’t have to understand my film.” i Real hope you like it… So no pressure, but it’s all up to you.

Affleck directed and co-starred Sky, 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 the reception – the film and its scene-packed cast received a lavish ovation. Sky stars Matt Damon as the Nike executive who signed Michael Jordan for his first sneaker deal. Affleck plays Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, and the film also stars Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker and Chris Messina.

Damon called his role – and reuniting with his “best friend” and longtime collaborator Affleck – “the best job I’ve ever had.”

“I showed up every day and had five to seven [script] pages to do opposing actors like this, it was ridiculous,” Damon said. “I’ve never had so much fun. Ben and I – from the moment we read [Alex Convery’s] script to the last version we made in the edit – it was just absolute enjoyment.

Davis – who called Affleck “the best actor I’ve ever seen” – spoke 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 dreams were their children. It’s the height of Jim Crow. It’s the epitome of black people being told their dreams don’t matter. Until now, it is kind of a miracle that she has that great vision for her son and believes it wholeheartedly. It was an honor to play Deloris.”

Bateman seemed stunned by the audience’s reaction to the film: “I couldn’t believe the amount of yelling 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 somehow able to amplify what Michael Jordan is for means all of us – which was already the pinnacle of grandeur and excitement I will never think of Michael Jordan or Air Jordans the same way again because of what Ben was able to do with this movie, and create that kind of feeling that we all just had.

In a rather bold creative choice, Jordan himself is not shown directly in the film, which Affleck said was an attempt to avoid an actor posing as a larger-than-life living legend with whom audiences were already so familiar. “There’s no way I’d ever ask an audience to believe someone else was Michael Jordan,” he said. “Which was honestly out of my own interest because I knew it would destroy the movie.” He also added: “This is not a documentary. This is not meant to be the absolute perfect 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 maybe that was a giant mistake,” given how the film somewhat satirizes the Nike co-founder. “But people like to make fun of the boss, that’s part of the workplace culture,” he said. “I’ve been known to appear in a meme from time to time.”

That said, he said he avoided contact with Nike and its executives during the film’s development and production. “I didn’t want to have any communication or contact or accept anything from Nike because I didn’t want to be accused of making propaganda or a commercial or changing something to please them.” Still, it’s hard to imagine Nike wouldn’t be happy with the extremely positive presentation of its company in the film.

In The Hollywood reporterIn Affleck’s current cover story profile, the actor-director talked about the movie and how he approached directing a movie where corporate America intersects with black culture. “I wouldn’t make a movie centered around the appropriation of black culture for profit by white Americans,” he said. “That’s not my movie to make. I’m telling a story that’s about a combination of things, and this is one aspect of it. I’m not going to leave it out because leaving it out would only increase the disrespect. What I’m going to do is talk to people who understand it better than I do and who can help me put it into context, and that was [costume designer] Karel [Antoinette Jones]that was Viola. Chris [Tucker], he gave me monologues, he gave me scenes, and it was very organic. And so I thought, ‘I want Chris to be paid as a writer as well. I want to be very clear that he is contributing to this film.’”

Sky will be Amazon’s first movie to be released theatrically without simultaneous release on Prime Video. The film will hit theaters on April 5.

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