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“Sideways,” “Maria,” “Agronomist” Among Top Gotham Awards Winners

"Sideways," "Maria," "Agronomist" Among Top Gotham Awards Winners

“Sideways,” “Maria,” “Agronomist” Among Top Gotham Awards Winners

by Eugene Hernandez

Sandra Oh, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Paul Giamatti in Alexander Payne’s “Sideways.” Photo © Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Alexander Payne‘s “Sideways” was named best feature at the 2004 Gotham Awards in New York last night. The honors, hosted by IFP/New York, were held at Pier 61 in Chelsea and broadcast live on IFC. “Sideways” is the latest film directed by Payne and written by the director and regular collaborator Jim Taylor. The Fox Searchlight release stars Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh and Thomas Haden Church. It was produced by Michael London.

The Gothams moved to December for the first time this year, placing the event at the start of the traditional awards season (on the same day this year that the National Board of Review named “Finding Neverland” as its best movie).

Jonathan Demme‘s “The Agronomist,” produced by Demme, Peter Saraf, and Bevin McNamara, won the Gotham for best documentary. It is a ThinkFilm release, along with HBO Cinemax Documentary Films. Michelle Montas, widow of the film’s subject, joined Demme and Saraf last night for the honors.

Catalina Sandino Moreno, star of “Maria Full of Grace” was named winner of the Breakthrough Actor prize, while the film’s director, Joshua Marston, won the Breakthrough Director prize. The actress, at a lunch earlier on Wednesday, told indieWIRE that she was thrilled to be nominated for the prize, not to mention the Independent Spirit Award nominations for the film this week. Despite all the attention for her and the film, she dismissed any Oscar talk, saying that she’d rather focus on prizes, like the Gotham and the Spirits, that are more tangible, for now.

This year the new Celebrate New York salute honored “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” with cast and crew including Jim Carrey, Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, and others on hand for the tribute.

Mike Leigh was honored with the Filmmaker Award for Lifetime Achievement last night, while another Filmmaker Award went to Michael Moore for his work. Unable to attend the event, Moore sent a taped message from, in his words, “The very blue state of Michigan, which is way blue right now.”

The Gotham Actor Award was presented to Don Cheadle, who quipped after watching his tribute of film clips, “No one should ever have to sit through something like that!”

The greatest drama of the evening was especially pronounced for industry insiders, and event organizers. This year’s Industry Lifetime Achievement Award went to maverick exhibitor and distributor Dan Talbot of New Yorker Films and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, who boldly ignored tele-prompting and read from a lengthy text in accepting his award, detailing the history of his own career and thanking many people, all live on television.

Dan Talbot maintains an important growing catalog of leading independent and foreign cinema, and over the years his company has been starting place for many of the business’ leading distribution executives. Last night, the extended remarks had planners scrambling, but planners wisely let Talbot speak uninterrupted.

The perhaps 20 minute long speech, a passionate account of the life and work of a beloved industry figure, was as unconventional and unexpected a moment as one could ever expect to find at an annual awards event, not to mention during a show broadcast live on television. While a number of attendees squirmed and chuckled at times during the long speech, over drinks at Kodak’s post-event party later (co-sponsored by indieWIRE and the New York Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and TV Development) many toasted Talbot’s trademark independent spirit and applauded his comments.

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