The 27th Film Independent Spirit Awards were presented on the beach in Santa Monica. The premier awards show exclusively honors independently produced films, while celebrating the filmmakers who embody independence and originality. This year’s show was hosted by actor, writer and producer Seth Rogen. Highlights included indie favorite John Waters as the Voice of God, and musical performances by My Morning Jacket and K’Naan.
Top honors were garnered by The Weinstein Company’s The Artist, which won four Spirit Awards including best feature, best director, best male lead, and the only below-the-line category, best cinematography. In relating the difficulties he faced in raising money for a black-and-white silent film, producer Thomas Langmann thanked Harvey Weinstein for putting his “weight” behind the small production, helping to bring the film into the international spotlight.
Also a best picture Oscar nominee, the film is the only one in that category filmed entirely in Hollywood. Langmann shared, “We wanted to shoot here in Hollywood because we wanted to have the chance to have people, gems like Penelope [Ann Miller]. We wanted to have the chance to have great crew. We had the right sets. Everything was perfect for the movie. This movie was made to be a tribute to Hollywood and especially to American cinema. The best place to do it, was to do it here.”
The John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for under $500,000 was given to Focus Features‘ Pariah. In accepting the award, producer Nekisa Cooper talked about how her crew made the film possible. “Our D.P., Bradford Young, is amazing. He built lights. I spent hours and hours with him and our gaffer [T.J. Alston] and our key grip [Christopher Koch] figuring out ways to be efficient. We shot in 18 days in Brooklyn. Eleven of those 18 days were in one location. In order to do that we had to have a really incredible, not only creative, but technical crew.”
Writer/director Dee Rees added, “Also Inbal Weinberg, who was our production designer, brought an art army and transformed a four-story brownstone into ten different locations. So it’s having artists who are committed to story, who are excited about meaningful characters, who were able to make this happen.”
Best female lead went to Michelle Williams for The Weinstein Company’s My Week with Marilyn. In speaking about developing her personification of the role, Williams credited various crew saying, “Everything helped – the hair, the makeup, the wigs, the wardrobe.”
Focus Features’ Beginners won best supporting male. Asked if any of the crew helped him in his character development, veteran actor Christopher Plummer received a big laugh when he joked, “The whole crew was gay.” He went on to say that the screenplay was so well-written and so human that it was easy to find the character.
The 5th annual Robert Altman Award which honors a film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast, was given to J. C. Chandor’s Margin Call, including casting directors Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Telsey and ensemble cast members Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci.
The Cinema Guild‘s The Interrupters won best documentary. To keep a low profile while shooting in Chicago’s gang territory, director, producer and editor Steve James also served as cinematographer. He worked with Kartemquin Films in Chicago for other production support.
Other honors were bestowed upon Fox Searchlight‘s The Descendants, which won best supporting female and best screenplay; Summit Entertainment‘s 50/50, which won best first screenplay, Roadside Attractions‘ Margin Call, which won best first feature; and Sony Picture Classics‘ A Separation, which won best international film.
Several filmmaker grants were awarded. The 2012 Chaz and Roger Ebert Fellowship, which recognizes a social-issue documentary and includes a cash grant of $10,000, was given to Katie Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, co-directors of the documentary Call Me Kuchu.
The 2012 Giorgio Armani Directing Fellowship, which includes a cash grant of $10,000, was awarded to Grace Lee, director of the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.
The 8th Annual Audi Someone to Watch award was given to Mark Jackson, director of Without. The $25,000 unrestricted grant, funded for the first time by Audi, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not received appropriate recognition.
The 17th Annual Nokia Truer Than Fiction Award was given to Heather Courtney, director of Where Soldiers Come From. The $25,000 unrestricted grant, funded by Nokia, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.
The 15th Annual Piaget Producers Award was given to Sophia Lin, producer of Take Shelter. The $25,000 unrestricted grant, funded by Piaget, is presented to an emerging producer who, despite highly limited resources demonstrates the creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce quality, independent films.
The 2nd Annual Jameson FIND Your Audience Award, which helps one low-budget independent film find a broader audience, was given to Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias, co-directors of Unfinished Spaces. The $40,000 marketing and distribution grant, funded by Jameson Irish Whiskey, was designed to meet independent filmmakers’ biggest challenge today: getting their films out into the marketplace.