The 17th Annual Gotham Awards were handed out tonight at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios, with no films taking multiple honors and Sean Penn‘s “Into The Wild winning best feature of the year. In addition to “Wild,” Michael Moore‘s “Sicko” was named best documentary feature, “Juno“‘s Ellen Page won the breakthrough actor award and Craig Zobel was named best breakthrough director for “Great World of Sound“. The casts of “Talk To Me” and “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” tied for the best ensemble cast award, while “Before The Devil”‘s Marisa Tomei presented Gotham’s unique “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Award” to Ronald Bronstein‘s “Frownland.”
In addition to the juried awards, six tributes were presented over the course of the evening. Those honored were actor Javier Bardem, film critic Roger Ebert, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, production designer Mark Friedberg, IFC Entertainment President Jonathan Sehring and filmmaker Mira Nair.
Accepting his award, Bloomberg noted that 65% of the films that have benefitted from the Made in NY production incentive program. He also announced a new initiative that will be launched in conjunction with the IFP. Dubbed “Next Gen NY”, the initiative will cultivate independent filmmakers who are attending the CUNY local university system. Concluding his remarks, the Mayor pitched himself for potential roles in any upcoming NYC productions, quipping, “I can dance, I can speak some Spanish and I can drive a stick shift!”
“The Namesake” star Tabu joined Uma Thurman to present the “adventurous, multi-cultural spirit” that is Mira Nair. Accepting her award, Nair said that while she doesn’t wear stockings because she comes from a warm climate, “It knocks my socks off to get this tribute from IFP,” adding that she personally benefitted from the organization’s programs years ago when preparing to make her first feature, “Salaam Bombay.”
Noting that the specialty film business has changed dramatically, Sehring spoke out to those in the audience about the way the film business is changing. Singling out Miramax president Daniel Battsek, he complimented the company on their work, but referring to specialty movies said, “these aren’t independent films.” He continued, adding that “movies that used to get distribution two or three years ago are not getting distribution.” He criticized those who have said there are too many films being made. “I don’t get it, why are there too many movies,” he asked, noting that in no other field do people complain that there is too much of something. “There are so many stories to be told that aren’t getting seen.”
Finally, defending his own company’s sometimes controversial day-and-date initiative, Sehring said to his industry colleagues, “The true independent film business should embrace these changes.”
As for the competitive winners, filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell noted that there “is a lot of cuteness” in the breakthrough acting category before announcing Ellen Page’s performance in “Juno” as the winner. Calling her own role in the film “an enormous gift,” Page said that she became obsessive about getting the part after receiving what she said was the best script she had ever read. Thanking the audience, she added that she decided in order to get the part, she would, “Sleep my way to the top, break some legs, or get pretty nasty.” Breakthrough director winner Craig Zobel, meanwhile, thanked his parents for not talking him out of making a movie by himself with no money and also for tipping him off to talent scout scams, which the movie is about.
Presented by IFP, the largest membership organization of independent filmmakers in the US, the Gotham Awards recognize independent filmmaking through six competitive awards. Final award recipients were decided by separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers and others involved filmmaking, with the exception of “The Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” award, which was determined by the editors of Filmmaker magazine.
Near the end of the evening, critic Roger Ebert took the stage and in an emotional moment accepted his award alongside his wife Shaz. Unable to speak do to his ongoing battle with cancer. Speaking to the audience, she recalled one particular day in which Ebert was feeling particularly down and seemed ready to throw in the towel. She recalled encouraging him, “Roger, you don’t know whether someone out there might be making a movie that you are going to want to see.”
Ebert’s wife Shaz also praised her husband for his love of film, especially independent film. People have said that Roger loves too many movies, Shaz Ebert noted, “So what. What’s not to love!” Saluting independent film, Roger Ebert said, in written remarks read by his wife, “Thank you very much and congratulations, keep up the good fight.”
Tony winning actor and playwright Sarah Jones hosted the ceremony, while Kyra Sedgewick, Emile Hirsch and Keri Russell were also among the presenters. The awards will be broadcast locally on NYC TV on December 4, 2007 at 9:00pm EST and aired nationally on The Documentary Channel on December 8, 2007 at 8:00pm EST.
The latest coverage of the Spirit Awards, the Oscars, and more are available in indieWIRE’s Awards Watch section.