The Gotham Independent Film Awards, an event that bills itself as the kickoff to the film awards season, is entering its 24th year. But it wasn’t until 2004 that the ceremony started to resemble similar kudofests — including its West Coast sibling, the more conspicuous Film Independent Spirit Awards — by introducing best feature and documentary prizes. Last year, it incorporated actor and actress kudos into the proceedings.
The event, taking place Dec. 1 at Cipriani Wall Street, started out as a career achievement showcase, with various breakthrough awards entering into the equation over the years. Now there are seven competitive awards, that judge films on whether “the vision of an individual director, producer, writer or writer-director is abundantly evident,” and make sure the film cannot be classically defined as a “work for hire.”
Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” both feature nominees, are practically unquantifiable, and even stand as dramatic departures from the people who made them. Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” another film vying for the top prize, established its own precedent as a narrative feature filmed over 12 years that captures its lead characters aging in real time.
For the most part, the Gotham awards, though less New York-centric than before, try to separate themselves from the pack by sheer extent of their independent imprimatur. Gotham’s nominees are earmarked by committees of film critics, journalists, fest programmers and curators, while those in the business who are IFP members — writers, directors, actors, producers, editors and such — determine the winners by online voting, a process that ends at 5 p.m. EST Nov. 26.
But Gotham organizers recognize that being willfully independent can result in an event that’s a tad too iconoclastic even by its own standards.
In this regard, the category of Best Film Not Playing in a Theater Near You, which was introduced in 2005 and included such titles as “Frownland” (a winner) and “Colma: The Musical,” was retired last year.
Still, there’s plenty of microbudget love to go around. “Hopefully this kind of honor will bring more audiences to these kind of teeny-tiny movies that just don’t have the machine behind them to get them out into the world,” said actress Kathryn Hahn (“Afternoon Delight”) on the red carpet last year.