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The Independent Spirit Awards Are Losing the Indie Quotient. Can They Win It Back?

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire February 24, 2013 at 1:54PM

"Fuck Hollywood," said host Andy Samberg at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards, a tongue-in-cheek act of defiance that was met with a mixed reaction. The irony, of course, was that this Santa Monica beach gathering brought much of Hollywood together for a ceremony that constantly sends a message antithetical to its name. In the space of the two-and-a-half hour show, independent spirit declares war with Hollywood in a couple of categories where the little guys shine. But at the end of the day, Hollywood usually wins.
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"Gimme the Loot."
IFC Films "Gimme the Loot."
Shrink the voting body. In one of his opening gags, Samberg noted that while he has few indie credits to his name, the box office grosses for his studio projects roughly equal those of movies in limited release. In fact, among Saturday's winners, there were only three categories in which the highest grossing box office contender didn't win. A massive voting body chooses the Spirit winners, but while all IFP member and Film Independent members get to vote, they don't all get the chance to see every nominee. Not everybody has access to special screenings or private screeners. With smaller voting and nominations committees, the Spirits could veto movies that may have already transitioned into a commercial realm unworthy of the event or those that otherwise don't fit the indie spirit moniker.

Lower the budget limit -- and keep it there. Over the years, Film Independent has maintained a variety of budgetary limitations for movies that qualify for the awards. The bar is currently set at $20 million -- but "Silver Linings Playbook," made for around $21 million, managed to apply for an exception and (perhaps due to some strong-arming on the part of distributor Harvey Weinstein) got it. If Film Independent had prevented "Silver Linings Playbook" from bending the rules, the results would have been very different this time.

Define the categories better. Stephen Chbosky won Best First Feature for "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," adapted from his book of the same name, even though he actually made his directorial debut 18 years ago with the little-seen "The Four Corners of Nowhere" (because it was barely released in theaters, Chbosky supposedly qualified this time). Already successful and well-known, Chbosky defeated more reasonable contenders whose recent debuts made them into true discoveries, like "Gimme the Loot" director Adam Leon and "Sound of My Voice" director Zal Batmanglij. As with the "Silver Linings" situation, if "Perks" didn't make the cut, the resulting category would have more accurately represented some of the emerging talent of American independent cinema worth singling out.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

Create a "Spirit of Indie" category for the bigger movies. Given the constant threat that the most popular and commercial title could take over the ceremony, the Spirits might consider grouping together those films made for larger sums and honoring them for maintaining originality against difficult odds. This would allow for the presence of the Hollywood content needed to please sponsors without endangering the prospects for other nominees.

Foreground the awards that deserve more attention. While the main set of winners are revealed at the ceremony, a number of Fimmaker Grants are announced ahead of the event, but only receive passing recognition during the ceremony itself. Leon won the Someone to Watch award for "Gimme the Loot" but delivered his acceptance speech in a pre-recorded video. In one of the few occasions when a figure exclusively associated with the indie sector took the stage, Mynette Louie took the Piaget Producers Award and delivered a brief scripted speech. Sean Baker's "Starlet" won the Robert Altman Award, another occasion when a genuine indie managed to briefly savor the spotlight. But these moments played like side dishes to the glitzier occasion at hand and were all but forgotten by its climax. Even so, the Independent Spirit Awards continue to represent a certain idea about the persistence of movies outside the studio-driven mainstream standards. But it routinely fails to advertise the movies that truly need it.

This article is related to: Awards, Spirit Awards, Andy Samberg, Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell







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