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