This article was updated at 10:26 p.m.
“Half Nelson,” ThinkFilm’s provocative portrait of a New York public-school teacher, scored big at the Independent Feature Project’s Gotham Awards on Wednesday night, taking home three awards, including the feature nod.
Movie, which earned five Independent Spirit Award noms on Tuesday, also saw Ryan Fleck win breakthrough director and Shareeka Epps share kudos for breakthrough actor with Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”).
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pic also took the ensemble cast nod–with Kikuchi the sole actor standing up to receive the award on behalf of the heavily international cast.
“Iraq in Fragments,” hard-hitting HBO Films doc from James Longley that follows the lives of ordinary Iraqis in a time of war, won for best documentary, besting better-known films like “An Inconvenient Truth. “Fragments,” which is on the shortlist for a docu Oscar nomination, has been in limited release this month and is scheduled to air on HBO.
Presenter Rosie Perez, promoting her own upcoming doc, had a scene-stealer with a satiric bit taking aim at earnest speeches from documentarians who make movies for the love of the craft.
The “Half Nelson” win for feature ends what has been weeks of carping from indie-film execs that two of the nomi-nees, “The Departed” and “Marie Antoinette,” were big-budget studio movies that shouldn’t have been eligible for the indie-flavored Gothams.
Host David Cross even included a joke about the noms in his monologue, noting the “untested director” who made “The Departed.” “How that ever got greenlit I have no idea,” he said sarcastically.
The IFP’s Michelle Byrd had defended the choices, saying they were made based on vision and voice, not budgets.
New Line’s “Little Children” and Kino Intl.’s “Old Joy” were the other two nominees in the feature category.
Fleck, who also went to the podium to accept on behalf of Epps (If she was here, “she could possibly want to thank us”), beat out Ramin Bahrani (“Man Push Cart”), Laurie Collyer (“Sherrybaby”), So Yong Kim (“In Between Days”) and James Marsh (“The King”) to win the breakthrough director prize.
Epps and Kikuchi won their prizes over Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Channing Tatum (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) and Melinda Page Hamilton (“Sleeping Dogs Lie”).
Steve Barron’s “Choking Man,” a fantasy-oriented pic about a Queens dishwasher that played the Tribeca Film Festival, won for best film not playing at a theater near you, the prize for pics without theatrical distribution.
Wins for “Half Nelson” continued a hot streak for the film and its distrib. Movie has been a critical fave and has earned $2.7 million at the B.O. since its August opening. Film’s star, Ryan Gosling, is the focus of ThinkFilm’s campaign for an actor Oscar.
Ceremony, which took place at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 60, also saw tributes to Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban and Ellen Kuras, with extensive video montages to all of them.
Wagner made the most direct critique of the industry, declaring, in a nod to the windows issue, that Hollywood had to be more flexible about consumer choice and fix what’s “broken.”
Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Gonzalez Inarritu received filmmaker tributes; a humanitarian tribute went to Tim Robbins.
Ceremony will air on WNYC in Gotham on Dec. 6; online, some coverage will stream on iFilm.
Appearance of many celebs, along with the early slot in the kudos-season calendar, is part of the efforts to position the Gothams as a bigger awards player.
Variety is among the sponsors of the event.