“Birdman” and “Boyhood.” “Citizenfour” and Julianne Moore. They all won Oscars this year. But they were also winners of 2014 IFP Gotham Awards, the first major awards show of the season and one that really poses a chicken-and-egg question about statuettes and campaigns and who influences what.
“Because we’re so early, by putting a spotlight on our nominees and winning films we’re giving confidence to distributors, encouragement to go on and campaign,” says Joana Vicente, executive director of the Independent Feature Project, which has been sponsoring the Gothams now for 25 years. “Not that the films would need it but, especially with the smaller ones, but it’s really a boost. It ends up having an impact, which is great, though that’s definitely not the mission — the mission is to elevate and celebrate independent films.”
Two new categories have been added to the program: Breakthrough Awards will recognize achievement in serialized content on television and new digital media.
“New York has always been kind of the center of independent filmmaking and even though there are amazing filmmakers and films everywhere, I still feel this is the place for independent films,” says Vicente, who is also executive director of the New York Media Center in Brooklyn.
But she says many people in the independent film world are involved with television or creating Web series and the time seemed ripe to recognize the work — both long form and short form — and the people who create it. “They’re the same people we’ve always worked with,” she says, adding that only debuting series will be eligible for the awards.
While the Gothams will recognize televised entertainment, they won’t be part of it, exactly (the program will be streamed live). “IFC used to broadcast the awards,” Vicente says. “But in a way it’s wonderful not to be broadcast. It keeps it intimate and fun and people can be more irreverent. It would be great if we had the right partner, but we don’t focus on that. We focus on being a nonbroadcast event, and on elevating the nominees and celebrating films that a lot of people have never heard about.”
The criteria for a Gotham nomination? Being American, having a point of view and being made with an “economy of means,” which is a little like Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”).
“There was a year when ‘The Departed’ was a nominee and there was a question of whether it had any economy of means. It’s not a line in the sand,” she adds.
It also leads to a wildly divergent competition: The best feature noms this year include “Spotlight,” “Carol,” “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Tangerine” and “Heaven Knows What.” Lead actress contenders are Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”), Brie Larson (“Room”), Bel Powley (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”) and Kristen Wiig (“Welcome to Me”).
Lead Actor: Christopher Abbott (“James White”), Kevin Corrigan (“Results”), Paul Dano (“Love & Mercy”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Experimenter”) and Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”).
The noms for documentary include “Approaching the Elephant,” “Cartel Land,” “Heart of a Dog,” “Listen to Me Marlon” and “The Look of Silence.” Four other competitive awards will be presented, for breakthrough actor, screenplay, the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director award and the Gotham Audience Award.
Todd Haynes (“Carol”) will be presented with this year’s Director Tribute. Robert Redford and Helen Mirren will be presented with actor and actress tributes. And producer Steve Golin will be awarded the Industry Tribute, all on Nov. 30 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.