“They are as different as New York and L.A.,” longtime independent producer Ted Hope says of the rival indie kudofests — IFP’s Gotham Independent Film Awards and Film Independent’s Los Angeles-based Spirit Awards.
“They’re very different, but they both have the same goal, which is to highlight indie work and support it,” adds IFP exec director Joana Vicente.
(IFP and Film Independent were formerly competing factions of the same org before a split in 2006.)
Films nominated for a Spirit must have a budget under $20 million, while there’s no budget cap for eligible Gotham pics — just a condition that they’re made within an “economy of means.” Voting bodies also differ. Film Independent and IFP members determine 13 of the Spirits’ 17 winners while Gotham’s six kudos are selected by peer-group panels.
The two soirees also produce different vibes: The Spirits ceremony is a star-studded, loose-limbed February event held one day prior to the Oscars; the Gothams are a more low-key November affair that kicks off awards season.
“I think it’s wrong to look at the Gothams first and foremost as simply an awards show,” Hope says. “They were conceived as a celebration of New York and New York film specifically. They’re concerned with continuing the conversation about how the work can lift spirits and culture as well as inspire.”
Since their inception 20 years ago, the Gothams have experienced their share of growing pains and gains.
In 2004 kudofest moved from September to late November. Then after provoking criticism among the indie community in 2006 for recognizing a large number of studio films, including “The Departed,” the organization modified its rules to restrict eligible films to those being handled by specialty divisions, independent distributors or self-distribution. In 2007 the show moved to Brooklyn only to return to Manhattan in 2008 when the Gotham Awards became the Gotham Independent Film Awards. This year a seventh kudo, the Festival Genius Audience Award, was added to the parade of accolades.
Although Hope says the initial pat on the back from the Gothams has been a “tremendous” help to some of his films, including 2007’s “The Savages,” which went on to garner two Oscar noms, Sony Pictures Classics co-topper Tom Bernard views the New York kudofest as regional recognition, not an award-season forecaster.
“If you’re in the New York indie film world, you have to be seen at the Gothams,” Bernard says. “They represent what that world feels is important. But in terms of what will mean something to your movie, the Independent Spirit Awards are much more of a player in the big awards sweepstakes.”
That said, Vicente welcomes any and all competition. “Indie films need as many award shows as they can get,” she says. “There are so many about the bigger films that whatever can be done to highlight the little guys is a good thing.”
Best Feature: “Black Swan,” “Blue Valentine,” “The Kids Are Alright,” “Let Me In,” “Winter’s Bone”
Best Documentary: “12th & Delaware,” “Inside Job,” “The Oath,” “Public Speaking,” “Sweetgrass”
Breakthrough Director: John Wells, Kevin Asch, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Tanya Hamilton, Lena Dunham
Breakthrough Actor: Prince Adu, Ronald Bronstein, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Lawrence, John Ortiz
Best Ensemble Performance: The Kids Are Alright, Life During Wartime, Please Give, Tiny Furniture, Winter’s Bone
Best film not playing in a theater near you: “Kati with an i,” “Littlerock,” “On Coal River,” “Summer Pasture,” “The Wolf Knife”
Festival Genius Award: “9000 Needles,” “Brotherhood,” “Waiting for Superman,” “White Irish Drinkers,” “Winter’s Bone”
Gotham Tributes (career tributes): Darren Aronofsky, Hilary Swank, Robert Duvall, James Schamus