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Introduction by NEH Chairman Jim Leach of the 2013 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by Martin Scorsese

Jim Leach, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Washington, DC
United States

April 1, 2013

Good evening.  On behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities, it is my pleasure to welcome each of you to the 42nd Jefferson Lecture.

The first Jefferson Lecture was delivered in 1972.  Richard Nixon was president and chose to re-direct American history outward by journeying to China.  The Watergate break-in also occurred that year, causing history to be bent inward in a less noble direction. 

Enduring questions have been the foundation of the Jefferson Lecture for nearly half a century.  Tonight’s Jefferson Lecture takes the ancient medium of the speech and updates it for a modern audience. It is being live-streamed across the country and around the world. 

We deeply appreciate those who have helped defray the cost of this evening.  In particular, we want to thank American Express and HBO for their extraordinary generosity and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for its special consideration of our needs.  We are also greatly appreciative of the faithful support of the National Trust for the Humanities, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Paul L. Peck.

The Jefferson Lecture is the federal government’s most prestigious honor for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.   Its recipients until now have been masters of the written word.  This year we emphasize through the presentation of this lecture that intellectual achievement can occur in realms other than that of the classroom and the book.  The Jefferson Lecturer for 2013 is Martin Scorsese, the acclaimed director and producer of some 50 films.

Martin Scorsese is on every list of the world’s most outstanding directors.  He has directed such landmark films as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundin, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and, most recently, Hugo.

His films are grounded in a sense of time and place, and though they are strikingly diverse in subject and style, they are known for incorporating camera and editing techniques from different genres, and for distinctive treatments of signature themes of isolation and ethnic identity, violence and loss, guilt and redemption, faith and spirituality.

Mr. Scorsese was born in New York, graduated from New York University where he also received a Masters in Fine Arts degree.  He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including an Academy Award for Best Director, three Golden Globe awards for Best Director, an Emmy for Best Director series and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

He received the 2010 Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globe Awards and the Palme D’Or and best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.  He was decorated with the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and the French Legion of Honor, and was honored at the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors for his contributions to cinema.

After his lecture, Mr. Scorsese will be joined on the stage by Kent Jones for a conversation.  Mr. Jones is a widely respected film programmer, writer, critic, and director who has worked with Martin Scorsese for many years, both in filmmaking and in film restoration and preservation.  Mr. Jones serves as Artistic Director of the World Cinema Foundation, founded by Mr. Scorsese to preserve and distribute neglected films from around the globe.  In 2012 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Now, ladies and gentleman, it is my honor to introduce Martin Scorsese for the 2013 Jefferson Lecture entitled: "Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema."