This will be the last year for the IFP Gotham Awards, as the organization behind the event — Independent Film Project — is formally changing its name to the Gotham Film and Media Institute, or the Gotham for short.
The rebrand, which coincides with the award show’s 30th anniversary, is intended to reflect the organization’s expanded focus and New York base. Going forward, the ceremony will lose its vestigial initials and simply be referred to as the Gotham Awards, as it has been known colloquially for years.
“We chose to change our name to the Gotham, or the Gotham Film and Media Institute, in recognition of the digital era and the best-known event that we produce every year, the Gotham Awards,” says Jeffrey Sharp, executive director of the organization. He will formally unveil the retooled moniker at the Jan. 11 Gotham Awards ceremony, which will be streamed from Cipriani Wall Street with winners accepting remotely due to pandemic safety protocols.
The organization’s name change should also help cut down on any lingering confusion between the organization and IFC, the independent film channel operated by AMC Networks, he says.
“We’ve kind of moved beyond ‘project,’ and ‘independent filmmaker,’ while still core to who we are, doesn’t necessarily embrace or capture where the organization has been moving over the past few years in terms of episodic and audio and interactive media,” says Sharp. A long-time indie film producer, he took on his current leadership role in 2019 following the departure of Joana Vicente to the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.
“And while it served us well, we’re really excited about what the opportunity will present in terms of our growth,” he says.
The Gotham Awards ceremony has evolved along with the parent organization. The inaugural ceremony took place in 1991 following IFP Week, a conference geared to the indie film sector, and paid tribute to New York-based filmmakers including “Paris Is Burning” director Jennie Livingston in the breakthrough category. A breakthrough acting award followed in 1998, with competitive film prizes added in 2004, when “Sideways” scored the best feature trophy. It has been honoring episodic programs since 2015, with “Killing Eve” and “Atlanta” among the recent small-screen winners.
Over the years, the event has come to be considered a bellwether for the Oscar season, due to its early slot on the film awards calendar. With its focus on breakthrough talent, the awards ceremony is a rite of passage for emerging talent, Sharp says.
“The first award that ends up on the mantle is probably the Gotham Award. That recognition and the acceptance into the Gotham club is meaningful, and you never really forget that.”
Channing Godfrey Peoples, writer-director of “Miss Juneteenth,”received a Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director nomination for her work on the film, her feature debut and one she spent seven years making. “I really just wanted to make a film that reflected the community that I grew up in,” says Peoples, who will be logging into the ceremony from her Fort Worth, Texas, hometown, and rooting on her leading lady, Nicole Beharie, nominated in the actress category. “The film touches on what does the American Dream mean for Black folks,” she says. “So to be honored for something like the Gothams is just incredible.”
Sharp, who produced 2000 Gotham Award nominee “You Can Count on Me,” says the event has served as a homecoming gathering for those in the indie storytelling sector.
Past Gotham Awards winners include Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Secretary”), Bennett Miller (“Capote”), Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” and Ryan Coogler (“The Fruitvale Station”), along with many other luminaries from independent films.
This year’s nominees include such awards season contenders as “Nomadland,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and “First Cow” in the feature film category and “Bacurau,” “Cuties” and animated “Wolfwalkers” in the international category. “The Forty-Year-Old Version” writer-director Radha Blank is vying for breakthrough director and screenplay honors; “First Cow” writer-director Kelly Reichardt is also nominated for her screenplay with Jonathan Raymond.
On the episodic front, breakthrough series nominees include “The Great,” “P-Valley” and “Watchmen” in the longform category and “Betty,” “Dave” and “I May Destroy You” in shortform.
The goal this year is to try and keep as much of the event’s spirit intact even though nominees will attend virtually. The organizers are setting up virtual tables to facilitate interaction among guests, and the winner “will accept the award from wherever they are,” Sharp says. “And, yeah, we’re gonna try to keep it at our two hour runtime.”
Viewers can tune in via IFP’s Facebook page at 8 p.m. ET Jan. 11.
The org will pay tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, fellow “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” star Viola Davis; “Small Axe” director Steve McQueen; “The Prom,” “Hollywood” and “Ratched” producer-director Ryan Murphy; and an inaugural ensemble tribute to “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Actor Jeffrey Wright will receive the Made in New York award in honor of his work with Brooklyn for Life!, an organization he co-founded that supports local businesses and serves meals to first responders, hospital workers and residents of public housing affected by the pandemic.
Sharp and his team have been working with Boseman’s family on his posthumous tribute. The actor, who died in late August of cancer, is also nominated for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and last year served on the breakthrough actor jury for the Gothams.
During the pandemic, the organization has continued to ramp up its eight-week education programs, intended to give aspiring storytellers training from an East Coast base. Students from all over the country have collaborated via Zoom, he says, and the Gotham institute’s first four credit semester study program will launch in 2021. The offerings add to existing IFP programs such as the filmmaker labs and the IFP Week conference.
“It all just fits so nicely within our ecosystem,” Sharp says. “You could envision those filmmakers then going on to our IFP, now Gotham Labs, to IFP Week, and then ultimately to the Gotham Awards. There’s a real fluidity to the way these programs operate.”
Over the past 40-plus years, IFP has developed filmmakers such as Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees, Sharp notes. He’s also proud of the Gotham Awards track record in its first three decades, noting the female directors, LGBTQ, Black and Latinx filmmakers that it has honored.
“It’s astonishing to go back and look at where the organization was years before the rest of the industry caught up,” he says. “We’re not alone in that there are other organizations doing this, but we’re on the forefront of really celebrating a wide array of stories and films. We’re all very proud of our history and our track record there.”
One area for improvement: with its annual tributes. “We’re looking at, moving forward, how do we recognize a broader array of talent with those tributes, because they’re so important, they really do set the conversation for the coming year,” he says.
“It’s a bummer that we’re not all going to be together and celebrate in one room with the martinis” and Cipriani’s cheesy pasta and mushroom appetizer. “It would be really nice. But we’ll make the most of it.”
“The Assistant” (A24)
“First Cow” (A24)
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Relic” (IFC Midnight)
“76 Days” (MTV Documentary Films)
“City Hall” (Zipporah Films)
“Our Time Machine” (Passion River Films)
“A Thousand Cuts” (PBS Distribution | “Frontline”)
“Time” (Amazon Studios)
“Bacurau” (Kino Lorber)
“Beanpole” (Kino Lorber)
“Identifying Features” (Kino Lorber)
“Martin Eden” (Kino Lorber)
“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus / GKids)
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios)
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
Jude Law, “The Nest” (IFC Films)
John Magaro, “First Cow” (A24)
Jesse Plemons, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix)
Nicole Beharie, “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment)
Jessie Buckley, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix)
Carrie Coon, “The Nest” (IFC Films)
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari” (A24)
Breakthrough Series, Long Format (40+ minutes)
“The Great” (Hulu)
“Immigration Nation” (Netflix)
Breakthrough Series, Short Format (Less than 40 minutes)
“Dave” (FX Networks)
“I May Destroy You” (HBO)
“Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi” (Hulu)
“Work in Progress” (Showtime)
Boseman, McQueen Among Honorees
The late actor is nominated for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and will receive a career tribute that will draw on input from family members. He served on the jury for IFP’s breakthrough actor award last year, and also starred in “Da 5 Bloods” and “Black Panther.”
Davis, an Oscar winner for her supporting performance in “Fences,” stars as the titular blues singer in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” tussling with Boseman’s trumpet player throughout the film. She is also an Emmy winner for her starring role in “How to Get Away With Murder.”
McQueen directed the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave” and recently helmed BBC/Amazon Studios’ five-part anthology, “Small Axe,” which the L.A. Film Critics Assn. named best film of the year.
IFP is awarding Murphy for his prolific producing and directing (recent projects include “The Prom,” “Hollywood” and “Ratched”) and his efforts to increase diversity and inclusion through the Half Initiative, which he launched in 2016.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
The Gothams have previously bestowed competitive ensemble awards, but this is the inaugural tribute to an ensemble cast. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” boasts performances by Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Michael Keaton and Frank Langella.
Made in New York Award
The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment will present the Made in New York kudo to Wright for his work with Brooklyn for Life! The organization, which the star of “Westworld” and “The Batman” co-founded, supports local businesses and has been providing meals to first responders, hospital workers and residents of public housing during the pandemic.