The 22nd annual Gotham Independent Film Awards took place Monday night at Cipriani, in a Financial District still in recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Presented by IFP, the event has always marked a kickoff to awards season. As indies and the Oscars have overlapped more and more, the Gothams provide an early look at some of the films and acceptance speeches we'll be seeing again at the Spirits and Academy Awards in the new year, starting with Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," which nabbed the win for Best Feature.
There were stars in attendance -- Marion Cotillard and Matt Damon were among those receiving tributes, while Jack Black, John Krasinski, Amy Adams, Willem Dafoe and others presented awards. And anyone not able to be there in person could watch the show online -- except when they couldn't, as the problem-plagued live feed hosted by YouTube lagged or went down for 20 minutes because of what the Gothams' Twitter feed described as "spotty" local Internet access.
The Gothams currently occupy a slightly awkward place between an event for and by the indie-film community and one intended to entertain outside viewers. As comedian and "Sleepwalk With Me" filmmaker and star Mike Birbiglia joked in an opening monologue that did not seem to go over well, "we're here because the rich guy who financed your film likes to meet celebrities." That's the unspoken subtext of many gala events for nonprofits, which are meant to celebrate the less-glamorous actual work that goes on throughout the year while also drawing the attention of donors and outsiders by way of famous faces. As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out in his remote intro, while Damon has a career that's spanned both indies and studio films (Kimmel took the first of the evening's two jabs at "The Legend of Bagger Vance"), it's his work in blockbusters like the "Ocean's Eleven" and "Bourne" franchises that cemented his place as a household name.
Like the Spirit Awards, which air annually on IFC (full disclosure, I was once an employee) in what started as a live broadcast but has become a live-to-tape affair, the Gothams try to balance being an event designed to serve an indie-film industry that isn't given broader recognition and one that a wider audience will want to watch because it's filled with celebrities and funny bits. Do we watch the Gothams because we want to see if our friends and the small films we care about win, or because we like to discuss what Famke Janssen is wearing and hope to see Billy Crudup say something goofy after having one too many at the open bar?
There's no reason one event can't offer both, but evidence of how seldom the two line up could be seen in the presentation of the first category, the Audience Award, powered by online voters. Actor and 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto, who directed the music industry documentary "Artifact" (which premiered at Toronto in September), was clearly aware, in accepting the prize, that his considerable fan following had powered him past festival favorites such as "Beasts of the Southern Wild." He ended his speech by pleading, "Don't hate me because I won." Fully half the comments on the live stream are from those early minutes of the event, as members of Leto's fanbase, which calls itself the Echelon, wrote things such as "WE WOOOOON HATEEEEERS" and "ok :D now I can go to sleep :D."
The back-and-forth between mainstream acceptance and artistic credibility is an ever-present force in the indie-film community, but it's a more central one to an awards show, during which you displease community and industry insiders by pandering too much to an outside audience but lose those same outsiders by focusing closely on films or people they don't recognize or haven't had the chance to see. In 2004, the Gothams were broadcast live for the first time on IFC, and they made a deal wtih NYC-TV for a subsequent live airing in 2007, but they couldn't make a permanent leap to a steady national broadcast platform.