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Big Apple fetes small feats

IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards 2012

Unlike most end-of-year talent pageants, the Independent Feature Project’s Gotham Awards largely celebrate cinema’s unknown. Eligible films are limited to those handled by independent distribs, shepherded by a specialty division or self-distributed, making the low-key awards show a rare affair that attracts major stars but also a large contingent of micro-budget gems and up-and-coming artists.

IFP fetes the big names via special tributes — which go to Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, David O. Russell and Jeff Skoll at this year’s kudofest — while shaping the other awards into unique tyro-targeted categories such as breakthrough director and best film not playing at a theater near you. On the acting front, the Gothams give only two prizes: breakthrough actor and ensemble performance (an award geared toward Robert Altman-style casts with no clear lead). Such categories are designed to draw attention to films, actors and directors frequently overlooked by the larger awards races.

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“We host the show early in the season in hopes of making some impact,” says IFP exec director Joana Vicente. “If the film gets recognition at (our ceremony), then distributors will get excited, spend some more money, campaign and hopefully the film will go on to get other types of recognition.”

Whereas the Academy Awards traditionally honor well-established helmers, the Gothams acknowledge the achievements of such breaking talents as Zal Batmanglij (director of “Sound of My Voice”) and Antonio Mendez Esparza (who helmed “Here and There”). The org’s definition of breakthrough actor proves a bit more difficult to pin down.

That category includes both “Beasts of the Southern Wild” ingenue Quvenzhane Wallis (in her first film role) and “Hello, I Must Be Going” star Melanie Lynskey, who launched her career alongside Kate Winslet 18 years ago when they co-starred in “Heavenly Creatures.” Vicente says those breakthrough roles can also be considered turning-point performances in need of a boost.

The Gothams could be a serious momentum builder for 32-year-old acting nominee Emayatzy Corinealdi, whose widely lauded performance in “Middle of Nowhere” has the potential to be this year’s underdog story.

The film and TV thesp describes her lead role in the film about a young Los Angeles woman’s uncertainty over whether to stay committed to her jailed husband, as an “unbelievable opportunity”: “I never even thought about awards season or nomination or any of that while we were shooting,” says Corinealdi, who originally auditioned to play a supporting role. “I was just so excited to get the part.”

Though there’s already been considerable Oscar talk around “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” breakthrough director nominee Benh Zeitlin feels “wildly blessed” to have been recognized by Gotham’s nominating committee.

“I’ve known about the Gothams for a long time, so I’m excited to actually get the opportunity to be a part of them this year,” he says. “It’s a really important awards show because they have their own point of view on how to recognize work.

THE 2012 NOMINATIONS

Best Feature
“Bernie”
The Loneliest Planet
“The Master”
“Middle of Nowhere”
“Moonrise Kingdom”

Best Documentary
“Detropia”
“How to Survive a Plague”
“Marina Abramovi: The Artist is Present”
“Room 237”
“The Waiting Room”

Best Ensemble Performance
“Bernie” : Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
“Moonrise Kingdom” : Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
“Safety Not Guaranteed” : Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub
“Silver Linings Playbook” : Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Shea Wigham, Paulie Herman
“Your Sister’s Sister” :Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt, Mark Duplass

Breakthrough Director
Zal Batmanglij for “Sound of My Voice
Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky for “Francine”
Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin for “Now, Forager”
Antonio Méndez Esparza for “Aquí y Allá (Here and There)”
Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Breakthrough Actor
Mike Birbiglia in “Sleepwalk with Me
Emayatzy Corinealdi in “Middle of Nowhere”
Thure Lindhardt in “Keep the Lights On”
Melanie Lynskey in “Hello, I Must Be Going”
Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Related Links:
Gotham Awards’ host adds acting nom to growing resume

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