By Indiewire | Indiewire November 30, 2006 at 5:37AM
"Half Nelson" took home a trio of prizes at the 16th annual IFP Gotham Awards. Along with the best feature prize, the film also nabbed honors in the other two categories in which it was nominated - a director's prize for Ryan Fleck, and a breakthrough actor award for newcomer Shareeka Epps. The story of an inner-city schoolteacher with his own share of troubles, THINKFilm's "Half Nelson" - already a winner from Locarno to Seattle - racked up a number of fresh nominations earlier this week for the upcoming Spirit Awards.
"Everything from getting accepted to Sundance to getting nominated for one Gotham award - let alone three - is a big thing," said producer Jamie Patricof during the cocktail portion of the evening. "We're pinching each other all the time."
"Half Nelson"'s Epps shares her breakthrough honors with Rinko Kikuchi for her work in "Babel."
Awards in the competitive categories were determined by a jury of peers, including Sarita Choudhury, Anabella Sciorra, Paul Schrader and Billy Baldwin who all made appearances on the (blue) carpet Wednesday night. The bold-faced mix of indie and Hollywoods aptly fit the ceremony, an unofficial opener for awards season.
IFP executive director Michelle Byrd said that even more people had traveled this year to attend the event, and credited Filmmaker Tribute honorees Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for contributing to the evening's convivial atmosphere. Noting that many of the films came with a full contingent of family and friends to cheer them on, she remarked, "Everyone came with their posse so it makes it feel like a party."
Filmmaker Amy Berg, whose "Deliver Us from Evil" was a documentary nominee, was glad to be in attendance. "I'm just happy to be done with filming. That's the toughest part."
The mood was light during the evening: host David Cross was among those who poked fun at the feature nominees that had so many people harrumphing when they were first announced. Pretending to stumble on the pronunciation of Sofia Coppola and Martin Scorsese's names, he also referred to "The Departed" as an example of "the little movies that could; those labors of love."
The documentary prize went to "Iraq in Fragments," from Typecast Releasing in association with HBO Documentary Films. A look at modern day Iraq in three parts from three local points of view, James Longley's film took top honors at Full Frame and has a place on the Oscar shortlist. Longley, just in from Amsterdam where he had a short film at IDFA, was enjoying the evening as an opportunity to meet his fellow filmmakers.
Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Said Tarchani, Boubker Ait El Caid - the cast of Paramount Vantage's "Babel" - were recognized as best ensemble. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's global tapestry weaves together narratives from interlocking lives in Morocco, Mexico and Japan.
Steve Barron's "Choking Man" was deemed Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. The winning film, about a loner Ecuadorian dishwasher who falls for the new Chinese waitress, was selected by the editors of Filmmaker Magazine and screened briefly last weekend along with its fellow nominees at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
Beyond the competitive prizes, special recognition was also paid to industryites during the evening. As previously announced, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton were both feted, as were Marc Cuban and Todd Wagner who received their salute from Steven Soderbergh.
Also receiving special honors was Tim Robbins, with the first annual Humanitarian Tribute. D.P. Ellen Kuras received "below the line" recognition, the first time the honor has been handed out in ten years.
For next year, Byrd hopes to expand the schedule of public events, which this year included the MoMA screenings and a New York Times Talk with Cuaron, del Toro and Inarritu.
The ceremony will be broadcast locally on NYC TV on December 6. Webcast coverage will be available on IFilm.com beginning Dec. 4.
"Half Nelson, "Ryan Fleck, director; Jamie Patricof, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell, Anna Boden, Rosanne Korenberg, producers (ThinkFilm)
"Iraq in Fragments," James Longley, director; James Longley, John Sinno, producers (Typecast Releasing in association with HBO Documentary Films)
Breakthrough Director Award:
Ryan Fleck for "Half Nelson" (ThinkFilm)
Breakthrough Actor Award:
Shareeka Epps in "Half Nelson" (ThinkFilm)
Rinko Kikuchi in "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
Best Ensemble Cast Award:
"Babel," Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Said Tarchani, Boubker Ait El Caid (Paramount Vantage)
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Award:
"Choking Man," Steve Barron, director; Joshua Zeman, Zachary Mortensen, producers
Gotham Awards Tribute: Kate Winslet
Gotham Awards Tribute: Edward Norton
Gotham Awards Tribute: Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban
Gotham Awards Tribute: Ellen Kuras
Gotham Awards Filmmakers Tribute: Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Gotham Awards Humanitarian Tribute: Tim Robbins