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Gotham Awards Shines Light on Thesps

New categories honor actor, actress as Gotham organizers maintain their independence amid high-stakes kudos season

Since their inception 23 years ago, IFP’s Gotham Independent Film Awards have experienced their share of growing pains and gains. For years, the low-key kudofest, which takes place at the outset of awards season, was truly independent and unconcerned about their impact on the Academy Awards.

In 2005, categories for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You and ensemble were added to the Gothams’ parade of accolades, designed to celebrate films and performances overlooked by Oscar. But this year, those categories have been scrapped and replaced with more traditional actor and actress kudos.

According to IFP exec director Joana Vicente and senior director of programming Milton Tabbot, the redesign wasn’t meant to align with the Oscars. Instead a “changing distribution landscape” and difficulty meeting the ensemble category criteria led to a shift toward standard awards honoring five thesps per gender.

“Independent film is where a lot of amazing actors get great, meaty roles, so we should be putting a spotlight on those performances, especially since we are the earliest show in the season,” Vicente says. “We do take pride if the recognition translates into building a greater audience and if in the process the (actor or film) gets nominated for other awards, but it’s not a means to the end.”

In years past, the initial pat on the back from the Gothams in the breakthrough actor category translated to Oscar noms for Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) and Ellen Page (“Juno”). While the category remains in place, this year’s five nominees aren’t exactly green. Seasoned thesps Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan (who co-starred in the $126 million-grossing “Chronicle” a year earlier) as well as such experienced pros as Kathryn Hahn and Emmy-nominated Robin Weigert are nominated alongside newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.

According to Tabbot, to qualify “doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the actor’s first role in a movie.” Instead the role is considered the first to display the range of his/her talent. Tabbot adds that both producers and distributors determine the crop of candidates they submit.

For Sony Pictures Classics co-topper Michael Barker, putting DeHaan in the running was a no-brainer. And while SPC’s “Before Midnight” garnered a feature nod and Cate Blanchett is among the nominees in the actress category for “Blue Jasmine,” Barker views the New York kudofest as regional recognition, not an awards-season forecaster.

“Gotham nominations (reflect) the tastes of a very small group of people,” he says. “That’s why if a film doesn’t get nominated for a Gotham award, no one is jumping out a window because it hurts their chance at an Oscar nomination.”

View Finders: Gothams Awards Fete Independent Thinkers

By Gordon Cox and Alex Stedman

Forest Whitaker – Actor Tribute

The thesp has been busy on both sides of the camera, connecting with audiences with his lead turn in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” in addition to producing the Sundance-winning feature “Fruitvale Station.” At year’s end, Whitaker also appears in both “Out of the Furnace” and “Black Nativity,” with indie drama “Enemy Way” and Jennifer Lynch thriller “A Fall from Grace” upcoming.

Richard Linklater – Director Tribute

Shortly after being Gotham-nominated for “Bernie” last year, the Texas helmer unveiled “Before Midnight,” the latest chapter in his ongoing collaboration with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Linklater has another long-developing Hawke project up his sleeve: He and the actor spent the past dozen years making “Boyhood,” which they plan to unveil in 2014.

Katherine Oliver

The commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment is packing the Bloomberg administration’s final days with projects, including the recent opening of the Made in NY Media Center, the Brooklyn outpost envisioned as an industry hub. Other activities in the mix: the Spotlight on Broadway interactive website and a new grad film school at Brooklyn College.

(Pictured: This year, IFP added a more traditional best actor category to its breakthrough actor award — for which “Kill Your Darlings’” Dane DeHaan, left, was nommed.)

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