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February 25, 2005 2:00 AM
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DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: A Final Round of Celebrations with Indie Spirits in the Spotlight

DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: A Final Round of Celebrations with Indie Spirits in the Spotlight

by Eugene Hernandez









Quentin Tarantino with Dawn Hudson at Thursday's IFP/Los Angeles Spirit Awards party in Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

Here in Los Angeles this weekend, the long awards season comes to a close with numerous parties leading up to the Independent Spirit Awards tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon and the Academy Awards on Sunday evening. Last night in Santa Monica, the Independent Feature Project Los Angeles saluted its nominees with a reception at the Delfina Hotel, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Indie Spirits.

While "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" will battle it out for Oscars on Sunday, "Sideways" and "Maria Full of Grace" are among the films hoping to win Spirits on the beach in Santa Monica tomorrow; the roster of nominees includes an array of indies with big and small budgets, some hits at the box office and others still seeking distribution.

Spirited Event

As the Spirit Awards have evolved during the past two decades, more celebrities can been seen on the red carpet, not to mention in the films being honored. It is an event that pits small movies against well-known Indiewood pictures. Some of those larger films now battle Hollywood releases for Oscars the next day. Organizers maintain that despite the widening definition of independent, the Spirits are true to their roots.

"What's so rewarding about The Spirit Awards is that our mission has remained the same for 20 years," explained IFP/Los Angeles executive director Dawn Hudson in a conversation with indieWIRE. "We put the spotlight on independent films, the spectrum of independent films, some that don't get any recognition in the marketplace." She continued, "As we have held true to that mission, the community around us has become more interested and grown."

The event has grown in significance -- Salma Hayek and Quentin Tarantino are serving as honorary co-chairs for the afternoon, while Samuel L. Jackson will host the proceedings -- but the celebration remains about the same size, still welcoming only 1,400 to the big white tent on the beach. "We could be in the Shrine auditorium and we still couldn't accommodate everyone (who wants to attend)," laughed Hudson, not wanting to sound cocky but admitting that while interest in the fundraiser intensifies every year, the IFP wants to maintain as intimate an event as possible.

"One thing we have held on to is never wanting to change the feeling of a community in the room," explained longtime event producer Diana Zahn-Storey in a conversation with indieWIRE. "That is important." One way the event maintain its intimacy is that the bars open at 11:30 a.m., nearly three hours before a single award is presented. The late morning cocktail party has become one of the hot tickets of awards week and, as Zahn-Storey joked, "It helps get rid of some of the nerves."

Hudson reinforced that what truly distinguishes the event from that other awards show this weekend is that it honors a number of movies that won't be recognized on Sunday.









Quentin Tarantino speaks during the party, as IFP/Los Angeles president Vondie Curtis Hall and actress Salma Hayek watch. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

"Its nice to see new talent acknowledged, that's what makes the Spirit Awards different," explained Hudson, citing this years nominees 'Badassss', 'The Woodsman', 'Napoleon Dynamite', 'Mean Creek', 'Woman Thou Art Loosed', 'On The Outs', these are fantastic films."

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Spirits, a number of past nominees and winners will be on hand Saturday, along with pictures projected from previous year's ceremonies during the cocktail party. Once again IFC will broadcast the event live and uncut, with Bravo later airing a trimmed version of the program. After the show, IFC will host its annual after-party, another cocktail-infused celebration that has become the hot coda to the event, drawing a large crowd to nearby Shutters on the Beach.

Party After Party

With the recent heavy rains in SoCal, party planners have been keeping their eyes on the skies here in Los Angeles. Weather forecasters say that the blue skies that arrived overheard on Thursday will continue through Oscar night.

While Spirit Awards nominees partied in Santa Monica on Thursday night, MGM and United Artists celebrated their Oscar and Spirit Award nominations with a party at popular LA restaurant Campanile. MGM vice chairman and COO Chris McGurk worked the room greeting well-wishers as guests noshed -- Thursday is grilled cheese night at the restaurant. It was a party with a bittersweet feeling. A consortium led by Sony is closing a deal for MGM and United Artists and once the deal is finalized both the studio and its specialty unit will face a huge shake-up that will see executives from the top down leaving. For now, though, Oscar nominees Don Cheadle and Sophie Okenedo were in the spotlight at Thursday's celebration, toasting their nominations for the company's "Hotel Rwanda."

Meanwhile over at the Pacific Design Center, ICM's Shaun Redick and others hosted the Indie Ball, toasting independent films and filmmakers. Numerous other parties are on tap, many catering to the Hollywood set. While indies are partying and honoring their own in Santa Monica by day, tomorrow night Miramax will toast its 25th anniversary at a Pacific Design Center party that will mark the end of Miramax as we know it, certainly for Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Just as MGM's top brass are leaving their company, Miramax's Weinstein's are widely expected to leave Miramax soon to start a new venture. The brothers are said to be in final discussions with corporate parent Disney this week in Los Angeles. So Oscar weekend, with Scorsese's "The Aviator" in the running, will be a true swan song for Miramax.









Oscar nominees Sophie Okenedo and Don Cheadle embrace at MGM's party Thursday saluting its nominees. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

On Oscar night, the usual list of parties is on tap: the official Governors Ball, Vanity Fair's big bash, and Elton John's yearly AIDS foundation fundraiser. A noteworthy event for indies is what is billed as a "Super Sized Oscar Night" to celebrate the doc Oscar nomination for "Super Size Me." The event, co-hosted by Film Threat, boasts a 4 p.m. start time and will continue until 2 a.m. and touts the party as "Home of the Super Sized Schwag Bag."

Brand Dance is Back!

Of course, a week of industry events wouldn't be complete these days without a heavy dose of branding. Insiders needing a respite from all of the Oscar week partying can chill out at the Soho House Oscar Villa, situated in a 10,000 square foot private home in the hills. Carl F. Bucherer is among the elite brands hosting the spot that is welcoming celebs, VIPs, and others for a getaway and a bit of swag gifting.

Back at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, Sundance-style gifting goes to the beach with On 3 Productions again creating swag bags for Spirit Awards attendees. While all 1,400 attendees will take home a collection that includes booze, sweets, Kiehl's products, a 3-month Netflix certificate, and more, the real swag is available only for the big names. A special gift lounge backstage will offer an array of clothing, a Loews Cineplex annual pass, a lifetime membership to Netflix, Ray-Bans, electronics, and much, much, much more, according to a press release.

Chatting over cocktails at Thursday's Spirit Awards nominees party, one IFP staffer wondered aloud whether any of the lesser-known filmmakers being celebrated tomorrow will be welcomed for a bit of backstage swag-shopping.

We'll try to find out.

[indieWIRE will publish the complete list of Independent Spirit Award winners tomorrow at the end of the ceremony. The complete list of nominations is available here.]

[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez was a member of the five-person Documentary Feature Nominating Committee for the IFP Independent Spirit Awards.]

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