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The Indie Films that the MTV Movie Awards Aren’t Leaving Behind

The Indie Films that the MTV Movie Awards Aren't Leaving Behind

There’s a massive sign outside Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, site of the 2016 MTV Movie Awards. Touting this weekend’s festivities, above the stories-high likenesses of co-hosts Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, there’s the tagline “Your kind of movies. Your kind of show.”

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The ceremony, slated to take place outside on the WB backlot, will be held outside, recorded on Saturday evening ahead of its Sunday night broadcast on MTV. For an indie audience, however, that tagline may not seem entirely accurate. The film and acting category nominees are scattered with some of the largest-scale spectacle fare from the past year in film. But with this year’s iteration of the show, those nominations are moving away from past gimmicks and toward areas of the industry that their awards show competitors have yet to embrace.

Although there are some definite patterns in the categories they’ve populated over the last 24 years, the MTV Movie Awards has some leeway in how they can recognize certain films and performances. Gone this year are the “Best Shirtless Performance,” “#WTF Moment” and “Best Scared-As-S**t Performance” of yesteryear. Instead, this will be the first year that a Best Virtual Performance award will be given out, with nominees like Amy Poehler in “Inside Out” and Lupita Nyong’o in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” representing tops in voice acting and motion capture work. “You’ve seen virtual performance elements in shows, but celebrating the performance itself is a fun, new way of bringing those into the vernacular of an awards show,” said Garrett English, Executive Producer and Senior Vice President of Live and Special Events for MTV.

Poehler and Nyong’o are being recognized for contributions to runaway blockbuster smashes, but additional added categories are embracing stories on a smaller scale. Instead of being heavy with franchise-leaders, the show’s producers explained that this year’s addition of “True Story” and Best Documentary categories allow them to engage a different kind of entertainment and audience. On the documentary side, Asif Kapadia’s award-winning “Amy” is a natural fit for an MTV show and “What Happened, Miss Simone” also has an inherent musical connection. “We’ve embraced that in an on-demand/SVOD world, people are seeing docs. When they have a music tie-in that relates to our audience, they don’t care if it’s a doc or not. They’re going to watch it,” said Erik Flannigan, Executive Vice President of Music/Events Strategy & Development for MTV.

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But among the other nominees in the category, Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land” and Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack” aren’t the most obvious selections for a show of this scope. English says that with the ever-shifting distribution model landscape, that’s beginning to change. “Through a variety of digital media, the documentary is in a very different place than where it was,” English said. He and Flannigan pointed out that many viewers are experiencing docs for the first time in the same venue that they’d be watching the show on Sunday: their living rooms. “I think our audience is engaging with that storytelling in a much different way than the conventional movie theater exhibition. There were stories that were resonating outside of the mainstream blockbuster film world that had real importance to us,” English said. 

When asked about the future of the show, and if there might be other categories on the horizon, Flannigan talked about a potential inclusion of digital programming. Given the recent Emmys changes regarding content released exclusively online, he explained that there’s a chance that future versions of the MTV Movie Awards may find a way to include similar programming. “Whether it’s new categories or not, as we look for other areas that we think are ripe for recognition and celebration, there’s digital original content and talent. It’s going to get one category in the Emmys, you’ve got the short films at the Academy Awards, but there’s a whole class of amazing content out there that’s maybe not getting the recognition it deserves,” Flannigan said.

Independent film and MTV may not be the most natural partnership, but Flannigan cited A24’s recent Oscar success as evidence of another coming shift in the landscape. (Recently minted Oscar winner Alicia Vikander is nominated on Saturday for her role in “Ex Machina” as opposed to “The Danish Girl,” which brought her the trophy at the end of February.) Of the independent influence, Flannigan said, “It’s coming, whether we want to or not. And we want it to.”

Just one of the nominees…

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