Held the day before the Academy Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards have long sought to establish its more scrappy bonafides during its traditional Saturday afternoon awards ceremony. Held, per usual, in an overstuffed and often quite boisterous tent on the Santa Monica beach, the Indie Spirits certainly look and feel different than their black tie brethren, a theme that tends to dominate some of the ceremony’s biggest bits.
“It’s so much better than the Oscars. It’s the daytime, we’re on the beach, we recognize female directors, all two of them!,” host Aubrey Plaza cracked during her opening monologue, which poked fun at the differences between the Indie Spirits and the weekend’s other big awards show.
The tension between awards season’s final two (and, arguably biggest) events has reached touchy levels in recent years, with the Spirits and Oscars sharing plenty of nominees, and even some of their biggest winners, despite ostensibly serving different markets and audiences. In 2020, however, the divide felt somehow sharper, with many winners eager to enjoy their Indie Spirit win without the looming specter of the Oscars and big Hollywood at large hanging over them.
Best Supporting Actor winner Willem Dafoe, who picked up the afternoon’s first award, was happy to chat about his work in Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” but when asked repeated questions backstage about co-star Robert Pattinson’s upcoming superhero turn in “The Batman,” was quick to turn the attention back to the day’s festivities.
“Let’s talk about ‘The Lighthouse,'” he said to a member of the press asking if the one-time “Aquaman” star advised his co-star on the superhero filmmaking world. “Sorry, sorry, but there’s plenty of time to talk about that. We’re at the Independent [Spirit] Awards, and it’s nice to talk about this movie that I’m here for, a film that I’m happy for people to see.”
Olivia Wilde, who won Best First Feature for her crowdpleasing coming-of-age comedy “Booksmart,” struck a similar tone after her win. While “Booksmart” was shut out of the Oscars, affection for the feature was strong at the Spirits. The film beat out other indie favorites, including “The Climb,” “Diane,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “The Mustang,” and “See You Yesterday,” which were also overlooked by the Academy Awards.
“This is an incredible way to celebrate this movie, it’s been such a journey,” Wilde said. “We’ve all been on this together, it’s been a passion project for all of us. It’s really through blood, sweat, and tears that this movie got made [and] with everybody’s belief in it. That’s why this is so special, because that’s, of course, the spirit that Film Independent celebrates, so this is very exciting for us.”
Asked about the lack of female filmmakers honored by the Oscars this year and how the film world can keep encouraging female talent, Wilde pointed to her female producers, including Chelsea Barnard, Jessica Elbaum, and Megan Ellison, for believing in her. “We need to see more producers to say I dare you to go for it, I encourage you, and I empower you,” she said. “This year’s been so amazing for female directors, and I’m so proud to be in this movement. There are so many of us. There are so many women who are ready to tell their stories.”
While the Indie Spirits often honor films that the Oscars have never even heard of, let alone thought to honor, like Best First Screenplay winner “See You Yesterday” and John Cassavetes Award winner “Give Me Liberty,” there remains plenty of crossover, including for crowd favorites like “Parasite.”
Sunday holds some big potential for the film and its beloved filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, which is nominated for six Oscars and ultimately made off with a single Indie Spirit on Saturday afternoon. The South Korean filmmaker, however, is looking forward to a different, more definite end to his awards season.
“After tomorrow, I can finally go home, that’s what makes me happiest,” Bong joked backstage after his Best International Film win. After the Indie Spirits, he’ll be going home with at least one big piece of hardware.
Asked about how it feels to be honored by the independent film community for their “American Factory,” Best Documentary winners Julia Reichart and Steven Bognar were effusive. While the filmmaking duo are also nominated in the same category at Sunday’s Oscars, the Indie Spirits hold a special spot in their hearts.
“It actually means a huge amount, and we one hundred thousand percent identify as independent filmmakers, and I have for 50 years,” Reichert said. “So this award is huge, it’s our community.” Bognar echoed, “It’s very, very meaningful, it’s meaningful because it’s our friends, our comrades who voted for this film.”