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AWARDS WATCH ’08 | Back and Forth: Chatting About the Gotham Award Nods

AWARDS WATCH '08 | Back and Forth: Chatting About the Gotham Award Nods

Awards seasons continues to emerge, with today’s announcement of the Gotham Independent Film Award nominationsindieWIRE offers new latest back and forth, featuring editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez and assistant editor Peter Knegt talking today via instant messenger about this morning’s Gotham Award nominations.

Eugene Hernandez: So, the Gotham Awards, this year they are re-named the Gotham Independent Film Awards. A lot to talk about it, but I think the name change forces us to focus a bit on what the awards are exactly. Who are they designed to honor in the first place?

Peter Knegt: Well, it seems now, any American independent film. Which certainly creates a more inclusive batch of films. But – if I’m correct here – the awards were initially created to celebrate New York films and filmmakers, so it feels like this new focus takes away from the awards’ unique voice.

EH: Yes, its shift that has been happening over the last 5 years or so. For example, I did some research on the indieWIRE site today. In 2003, the nominees were films like “Raising Victor Vargas,” “Washington Heights,” “Pieces of April,” “Roger Dodger,” and the awards took place at the end of September during the IFP Market. The following year, the event was moved into December to officially kick off awards season and 10 films were in the running for best film. Then in 2006 things got really interesting. They decide to honor all budget sizes to celebrate the “art and craft” of filmmaking. “The Departed” was nominated for best picture.

And thenlast year the IFP reigned it in and reclaimed the term independence leading to a narrow roster of films and paving the way for the name change this year.

PK: That’s a very confusing evolution.

But I get it. It’s like they are situating themselves as the east coast version of the Spirit Awards. In terms of timing, the Golden Globes to their Oscars. It broadens their appeal, and hey, they are certainly honoring a well-deserved group.

It’s a shame only because I felt like this year some New York-related works, either in filmmaker or setting, were generally shafted at the expense of films that are likely going to be honored all over the place in the next few months. I’m thinking of “Momma’s Man,” “Chop Shop” (which did get one nomination, mind you), and especially “Wendy & Lucy.”

EH: The IFP may disagree with you on that Gothams v. Spirits comparison. But, there is certainly a case to be made — especially this year — for honoring and supporting New York based films and filmmaking. Yet be that as it may, the awards are now aimed at “independent” film in general, and not limited to New York City. And those parameters offer some interesting nominees…

PK: Definitely.

EH: Although, a number of friends and insiders IM’d me today rather surprised that Melissa Leo, while quite deserving, is hardly a “breakthrough.” She’s well established and respected. She’s great in “Frozen River,” but this is not a debut performance for her. Maybe its a “breakthrough” in that she is in a lead role?

PK: First of all, I find it strange they don’t have a category for “performance” generally, which I think is obviously where Leo deservedly belongs.

Between “21 Grams” and her work on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” she is hardly breaking through here. Especially when her nod was at the expense of her co-star Misty Upham. Leo will likely get a bunch of other nods over the next few months, and this category was designed to reward people like Upham, who might not factor in much again.

EH: So, okay. Let’s talk about the Breakthrough Director category. I haven’t yet seen “Afterschool” or “A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy“, but have seen the other three. I am particularly excited to see Barry (“Medicine for Melancholy“) and Alex (“Sleep Dealer“) in the running. Those are two of the best indies I’ve seen this year.

What’s your take on that category?

PK: I haven’t seen “Sexy” either, and I definitely agree with you regarding “Medicine” and “Dealer.” Well deserved. And of course Lance Hammer as well. But I found it strange that Courtney Hunt didn’t get in here, especially since her film was nominated for Best Feature (though I realize it’s a different nominating committee).

And I found it worse that she didn’t get in, in favor of Antonio Campos. I really didn’t enjoy “Afterschool,” and I know I’m not alone.

It just seems like a missed opportunity to reward a very deserving female director.

EH: Well, I’ll agree with you on that. Courtney Hunt not being nominated is an unfortunate and striking oversight.

PK: But I think any glaring problems for me end there.

I was very pleased in particular with the doc noms. I don’t know if I would have chosen anything different myself, except maybe “Up The Yangtze,” which I suspect might have been ineligible since it’s technically Canadian. Though isn’t “Man on Wire” technically British?

EH: It’s always such a tough call with documentaries these days, because there are always so many strong docs each year and narrowing it down to five is so damn difficult. This is a great group — I’ve seen them all.

But I have to admit, this year, I am again a member of the nominee selection committee for best documentary at the Spirit Awards, so I am thinking a lot about the best docs of the year right now. And, I still have many films to watch and it’s obviously a confidential process, so I can’t really offer much on this topic just yet.

PK: Of course.

Well, I’ll say that as subjective as these things can be, one great thing about the Gothams, and their new extended focus, is that it creates another opportunity to get these films some press and get people in theaters.

I think “Ballast” in particular can really benefit from this morning’s announcement.

EH: Yes, although I want to add in one slight complaint to the filmmakers (who I realize are self-distributing). I know a few folks — friends of mine — who heard about “Ballast” today via the Gotham nominations, went to the film’s website and can’t figure out where it’s playing in theaters!

The film hit select markets this past Friday, so I emailed the folks involved with “Ballast” today and urged them to add a list of theaters to their website so that people can actually go see it.

PK: Right now, it only lists the New York screening. Sort of funny that the year the awards officially expand their name, the only place screenings are listed for their lead contender is in Gotham.

What do you think? We encourage indieWIRE readers to weigh in on today’s nominations.

Get the latest from awards season anytime in indieWIRE’s special Awards Watch section.

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