Zack Gottsagen

His Star is Rising

Zack Gottsagen will receive the Rising Star Award from the Palm Springs International Film Festival for his uplifitng role in The Peanut Butter Falcon.

Staff Report Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

Zack Gottsagen
Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote The Peanut Butter Falcon after meeting Gottsagen at a camp for disabled actors.

Zack Gottsagen will be presented the Rising Star Award for The Peanut Butter Falcon at the 31st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala. The event, presented by American Express, sponsored by AT&T and Entertainment Tonight and hosted by Mary Hart, is scheduled for Jan. 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival runs Jan. 2-13.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the best feel-good movies of the year,” said Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “Its star Zack Gottsagen gives an outstanding performance as a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from a residential nursing home to fulfill his dream and ends up going on a life-changing journey. We look forward to seeing more of Zack in future roles.”

Past recipients of the Rising Star Award include Dakota Fanning, Gal Gadot, Anna Kendrick, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander. Gottsagen joins this year’s previously announced honorees Antonio Banderas (International Star Award, Actor) Jennifer Lopez (Spotlight Award), Joaquin Phoenix (Chairman’s Award), Martin Scorsese (Sonny Bono Visionary Award), Charlize Theron (International Star Award, Actress) and Renée Zellweger (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress).

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a classic adventure tale worthy of Mark Twain, a down-on-his-luck fisherman and a young man bent on achieving an impossible dream make their way down the waterways of a mythical American South with the help of a succession of colorful strangers. First-time feature writers/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote the film specifically for Gottsagen after meeting him at a camp for actors with disabilities, and attracted Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and Jon Bernthal to join their filmmaking adventure.


Zack Gottsagen paired with Shia LeBeouf in The Peanut Butter Falcon.

Gottsagen made his film debut as the star of a natural childbirth instructional film on April 22, 1985 and has been an enthusiastic performer since his first role as a frog at age three.  Gottsagen was the first child with Down syndrome to be fully included in the Palm Beach County School District. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) he filed one of the first ADA suits, which successfully challenged Little League to include children with disabilities, resulting in all coaches being required to receive training in inclusion.

An actor and a dancer, Gottsagen performed with Southern Dance Theatre for 13 years and assisted teaching there, as well as helped teach theater to children at Standing Ovation Performing Arts. Gottsagen has performed a monologue from “Hamlet” at the Black Box Theater at Dreyfoos and starred in the production of “Artie” at the Royal Palm Playhouse. He has been involved with Zeno Mountain Farm nonprofit film productions from 2008 performing in multiple independent movies including Burning Like a Fire, Life of a Dollar Bill, the short film Bulletproof and documentary Becoming Bulletproof.

Gottsagen is a leader in SAIL (Self-Advocates & Independent Living) through the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization and is actively involved with Very Special Arts. He won the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award in 2018 for his work in the Down syndrome community and was awarded at their Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show.