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The Spirits’ $20 million Popularity Contest

The Spirits' $20 million Popularity Contest

If you missed the news on Friday, FIND or “Film Independent” — the group formerly known as IFP/Los Angeles — raised the budgetary cap on elligible features to $20 million for its annual Spirit Awards. As my fellow blogger at The Reeler pointed out, “If you cannot make your indie film for twenty fucking million dollars, then you are just going to have to settle for an Oscar or a Golden Globe.”

If FIND is trying to hold on to any shred of indie credibility after it broke away from the IFP organization in May, this is certainly not the way to go. And the perfect way to make the “Independent” Spirit Awards obsolete and unnecessary is to keep raising the financial limits by $5 million every few years.

But the craziest thing for me is that Dawn Hudson and her board know full well that whomever wins the Spirit Awards every year has absolutely nothing to do with independence and everything to do with box office. Whereas a 13-person committee determines the nominations, the winners are voted upon by the IFP’s general membership, whose exposure to smaller films is more limited (despite the sending out of DVD screeners).

Board member Jeff Kleeman told me a couple years ago, “Having a major studio’s marketing and distribution force behind a film helps get the movie seen, so in terms of winning an award, it does privilege those movies that are with the studios.” They know this, and yet they still feel the need to structure the awards in such a way that favor studio films. How is this in keeping with the non-profit’s mission to help “independent film and independent filmmakers”?

For a Village Voice story I did a few years ago, I compliled a handy chart (scroll to the bottom) of Spirit winners past: And from the very first years with best picture prize-getters like “After Hours” (box office: $10.6 million) and “Platoon” (box office $137.9 million) all the way through 2005’s “Lost and Translation” ($44.5 million) and 2005’s “Sideways” ($71.5 million), the Spirits have always been just a popularity contest.

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