This week, a quick dispatch between awards shows to take the temperature in various rooms, as L.A.’s traditional winter “kudos circuit” tentatively returns with a slight spring delay, in a world itself even more tentative than the notion of stepping into a room full of people without masks.
And yet, that’s what we did this past weekend. And they weren’t always without masks, and they weren’t even actual “rooms” if we count the tents once again popping up on the beach in Santa Monica for the Independent Spirit Awards.
You don’t need this column to tell you who won of course — that news now travels at Twitter speed, at a minimum, though if the Art Directors Guild Awards are anything to go by, Dune may have a good night come Oscar time with the crafts, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and The Lost Daughter, per the Indie Spirits, could figure into some Oscar calculus too, perhaps on the writing side.
But of course, tea-leaf reading is just part of the sport of a traditional award season rondel, perhaps even its main activity — along with FYC advertising insistently reminding you which leaves to keep brewing.
But that’s in traditional years. This year, there was the whole added layer of getting Covid-vaxxed and tested, too. The Indie Spirits partnered with a medical compliance group that had you upload said vax card, and then pick an LA location, two days ahead of the event, to get a fresh test.
Those results were presumably uploaded so that if you didn’t pass, they’d perhaps advise you not to head on down to the beach and into a crowd on a Sunday afternoon. (Taika Waititi, co-producer for Best New Scripted Series winner Reservation Dogs — yes, the Spirits have added what we might call an “Indie Emmy” component this year — presented the award for Best Ensemble Cast in a Scripted Series. A cast he’d helped pick out. “I am giving an award… to myself. That’s what we do on Sunday afternoons. We give awards to ourselves. No wonder they all hate us.”)
The irony, after all the testing and card uploading, was that no one actually checked for either when you actually showed up at the proverbial tents. Showing that they were still using a template from earlier, more analog crises, the security folks instead politely searched your bag, in case, you know, you were planning to hijack the show.
On the other hand, the fresh test results provided by the Indie Spirits’ compliance partners came in handy the night before, where one stood in line in the lobby of downtown’s Intercontinental Hotel, having to provide both jab card and test results, and an ID — making sure you weren’t hitching a ride on someone else’s results — before getting a wrist band which was then checked as you stepped off an elevator upstairs, where you found a room full of nattily and colorfully attired folks (this being the ADG awards, after all), almost all without masks, drinking cocktails and chatting as if we’d stepped into a time machine.
The masks were around — the servers wisely kept theirs on — and were presumably meant to be back on when not chatting, imbibing, or eating. Except, really, most of the evening was imbibing, chatting, and eating.
But again, you were theoretically not in that room at all unless you’d passed the protocols, so it becomes a test of whether the whole notion of “gathering” can be a viable one. Though in an ironic twist, director Jane Campion, recipient of the group’s Cinematic Imagery Award, could only send video greetings, because she was in New Zealand… recovering from Covid!
As this is being filed, we’re out the door for the VES Awards too — another gathering! — where even fresher test results are requested. It’s said that a photo of a home test will do — perhaps the metadata can verify the date — but in any case, results are still negative, and we continue to tentatively make our way into the future, and of course, will report from there next week.
The other strain in the air — so to speak? — in terms of the Masque of the Red Death aspects of awards seasons in troubled times, was the war in Ukraine, perhaps best summed up by Questlove, whose Harlem Music Festival doc Summer of Soul won a Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature (another likely Oscar harbinger).
“The world outside is burning, and we’re here celebrating,” he noted, though he mentioned this in the context of the importance of documentaries. With dictators, legislatures, and extremists — and any combination thereof — looking to rewrite history, both already made and currently unfolding, the importance of documenting what was, and what is, becomes exponentially more important.
Honorary chair of the event, Kristen Stewart, also said that “today, we’re compelled to stand with the people of Ukraine,” as she stood against the now semiotic-shorthand of a blue and yellow background.
What shape that “standing with” takes will keep unfolding for all of us, everywhere, in the weeks ahead. Best Female Lead winner Taylour Paige, who won for her work in A24’s based-on-a-Twitter-thread “lost weekend” film Zola, acknowledged the larger situation while accepting her award and said that while she was personally grateful (and perhaps rather stunned), she remained “devastated and dispirited” that “we keep doing the same shit” over and over again, as a species.
Which gets back to Questlove’s whole point about documentaries.
Backstage, still both ebullient and philosophical, Paige mentioned not having shoes in time for being able to do the red carpet. “But who cares?” she asked, looking to keep it in perspective given the situation in Ukraine. The actress allowed that there probably needs to be humor — at least, eventually — when processing trauma, which feels like it could be one of Zola’s motifs, perhaps.
Within the particular timeline we’re all sharing, there will no doubt be a need for more humorous columns ahead. See you then.
Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”