‘Manito’ cops top nod at Gotham Awards

Event draws Lee, Moore, Haynes

First-time feature director Eric Eason won the Open Palm Award for his low-budget feature “Manito” at Thursday’s 12th Annual Gotham Awards, hosted by Rosie Perez and John Turturro in a glitzy ceremony at the Chelsea Piers.

Event attracted a who’s who in Gotham filmmaking. Honorees included Ang Lee, United Artists topper Bingham Ray, Julianne Moore and breakthrough actress Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Secretary”). Whitney Dow and Marco Williams were awarded the Anthony Radziwill Documentary Achievement Award for doc “Two Towns of Jasper,” which explores the roots of racism.

Perez and Turturro opened the evening with a light sendup of “The Godfather.”

“You come to me the night of the Oscars and ask me to do away with Harvey Weinstein?” said Turturro, imitating Don Corleone. Later, in comparing the film business to “his” business in the mob, Turturro said, “The difference between your business and my business is that when they whack someone in my business, they don’t come back. Your business, they come back better.”

Todd Haynes, who directed Moore in “Safe” and recently in Focus Features’ “Far From Heaven,” handed the award to Moore, praising her integrity as a person and as an actress.

Mike Leigh, who made “Secrets and Lies” at October Films while Ray was co-topper there, introduced Ray, joking at the IFP’s cheat sheet, which said “personal antidote here” instead of “anecdote.” In a surprise appearance, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. introduced Dow and Williams, lauding their work in helping to bridge the race divide.

Kevin Klein and Sigourney Weaver, who co-starred in the Lee-helmed “The Ice Storm,” introduced the director. Klein said Lee comes across as very timid but that that can be deceptive. On the set of “Ice Storm,” Klein recalled asking Lee about wearing a pair of glasses to read a newspaper in one of the movie’s scenes. Lee replied, “Show me.” When Lee returned to see Klein in the glasses, the director covered his face in horror, making it clear that the glasses wouldn’t work.

Eason said he made the first cut of “Manito” for just $24,000. In an interview with Daily Variety after the ceremony, he said, “I was basically a bum before I began making films. I had tons of jobs in New York. I did video work, worked on crews, did odd jobs.”

‘Manito’ mission

But making “Manito” became a mission for Eason. “People in the outer boroughs of New York were not sharing in the economic prosperity of the city during the Giuliani era,” said Eason. “I wanted to make a project that was completely outside of my own experiences.”

Pic centers on the members of a Latino family at the lower-end of the economic spectrum who are trying to improve their lives. The film, which involves over 100 actors, has snagged awards at eight festivals, including Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribeca and Miami.

Eason, who grew up in Westchester, is currently working on (and raising funds for) an ode to 1950s crime dramas.

Gotham’s big night ended with hundreds of industryites traipsing through the heavy rain to hip 10th Avenue bar Glass for Ray’s annual blowout after-party.

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