Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River" took best feature at the 18th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards Tuesday night in New York, while Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's "Trouble the Water" won best documentary during the ceremony held at Cipriani Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. "Frozen River"'s Melissa Leo also won the Gothams' breakthrough actor award.
"I did not see this one coming, I did not see this coming," said Courtney Hunt, accepting the best film prize. She started by thanking her husband "who raised the fucking money (for this movie)," and also thanked Michael Barker and Tom Bernard from Sony Pictures Classics for supporting, "this little chick film."
The wins at the Gotham Awards came on a day when the film also dominated the nominations for the annual Spirit Awards. "Frozen River" received seven Spirit nods, including best feature.
"I knew that the role was a role I could drive home," Gotham Award winner (and Spirit nominee) Melissa Leo told indieWIRE earlier today, "And that the story was gripping and had meaning that's worth its merit. But this... it's quite miraculous." At the Gothams this evening, Leo praised New York City as "the birthplace of independent film, truly indepndent film." She also saluted IFP for their ongoing support of indie film.
"Hurricane Katrina showed us a lot about ourselves," noted Carl Deal, aceepting the best documentary award with co-director Tia Lessin, praising the film's subjects and the many people they worked with, also singling out Zeitgeist and now HBO which has signed a TV deal for the acclaimed documentary.
Both "Frozen River" and "Trouble the Water" won best feature and documentary respectively at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival where they debuted.
Also taking home Gotham accolades were Lance Hammer ("Ballast"), another Sundance fest winner, who took the breakthrough director award. Accepting the prize, Hammer thanked the IFP for their early support of his work, saying they supported him, "when I was just a schmuck." And he singled out his cast, many of whom were in attendance with him at the event.
The casts of "Synecdoche, New York" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" shared the best ensemble performance award, while the Gothams' "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" nod went to "Sita Sings the Blues" by Nina Paley, receiving a $15,000 grant. "In a way I'd like to thank all the distributors who aren't distributing the film," Paley said. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
Four tributes were also presented Tuesday evening in addition to the six jury prizes. Actor Penelope Cruz, HBO Documentary Films' Sheila Nevins as well as directors Gus Van Sant and Melvin Van Peebles were honored during the two-hour ceremony. Van Peebles was praised "as the grandfather of American independent cinema." "My wildest dream was not as big as this evening," Van Peebles said, "But it's not about me..." saluting the IFP, its support of filmmakers and American indie movies. "I am very very pleased to be here in these times," he said, "There is this possibilty that you can do it."
Twenty-two films received nominations in the awards' six categories. Selecting this year’s nominees were 18 critics, journalists, and film programmers. Final award recipients were determined by separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers, casting directors, composers and others directly involved in making films.
The 18th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards recipients:
"Frozen River," directed by Courtney Hunt; produced by Heather Rae, Chip Hourihan (Sony Pictures Classics)
"Trouble the Water," directed and produced by Tia Lessin & Carl Deal (Zeitgeist Films in association with HBO Documentary Films)
Breakthrough Director Award:
Lance Hammer, director of "Ballast" (Alluvial Film Company)
Breakthrough Actor Award:
Melissa Leo ("Frozen River")
Best Ensemble Performance Award:
"Synecdoche, New York"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis and Tom Noonan (Sony Pictures Classics); Casting Director Jeanne McCarthy
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz & Patricia Clarkson (The Weinstein Company); Casting Directors Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto & Juliet Taylor
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You:
"Sita Sings the Blues" written, directed and animated by Nina Paley
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]