Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Viola Davis and Chris Tucker scored a standing ovation at South by Southwest on Saturday night with their closing film. “Air” was an instant MVP, even without the participation of its subject, basketball legend Michael Jordan.
A year after “Everything Everywhere All at Once” debuted at SXSW on its way to seven Oscar wins, the Austin festival launched another major crowd pleaser.
“Air,” directed by Affleck and written by Alex Convery, not only received rapturous applause as its credits rolled, but also sustained cheers throughout the inspiring film — especially in scenes involving Davis as Deloris Jordan negotiating with Nike’s Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) for his son’s worth.
The film follows the origin story of Nike’s Air Jordan shoe line, which began with Vaccaro’s strong belief in Michael Jordan (Damian Young) when he was just a rookie. In addition to directing, Affleck starred in the film as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, and he credited his co-stars for the pride he felt in the finished product.
“My whole directing strategy is to find brilliant people and say, ‘Just do it!'” Affleck said in the post-screening Q&A, playing on Nike’s famous slogan. “I’m not kidding. I feel like I just have to bear witness to all this performance and energy and their own writing that they brought.”
“I’m so fortunate to be a part of telling this story that has a resonance of worth and value and things far beyond what I can pass off as writing, into the deeper parts of this country and how we view ourselves themselves and each other,” he continued.”
Viola Davis – whom Affleck called “the best actor in the world” during his opening remarks – said it was an honor to have played Deloris.
“I think she did what we mothers do. We believe in our children more than anything,” she said. “My mother was born in 1943. Deloris was born in 1940. She was born into a generation of people , whose dreams were their children. It is the height of Jim Crow. It’s the height of black people being told their dreams didn’t matter. So for her to have that big vision for her son, and to believe it wholeheartedly, is so miraculous.”
“I showed up every day and had five to seven pages to do opposite actors like this,” said Damon, who also served as a producer on “Air.” “It was ridiculous. From the moment we read Alex’s script to the last cut we made, it was just absolute joy. This has been the best experience of my life. When you go to work with Viola Davis on a five-day stage, and at 10:30 you’re done, and it’s the best thing you’ve done in your career, you say, ‘Well, I think we have to keep working. What else can we do today?’”
“What Ben and Matt were able to do with this story, which is an American business story — they made a rock show out of it,” added Jason Bateman, who played Nike marketing chief Rob Strasser. “And it was somehow able to be enhanced by what Michael Jordan means to all of us. I will never think of Michael Jordan the same way again.”