The 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards returned to their beach venue in Santa Monica to honor artist-driven films made with an economy of means by filmmakers whose films embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision.
President Josh Welsh opened the show by telling the assembled filmmakers that in these days of cynicism, “Your films are a beacon.” He noted the attendance of Spirit Awards Honorary Chair Ava DuVernay.
In celebrating 25 years of Project Involve, Film Independent’s diversity and mentorship program, producer Effie T. Brown talked about inclusiveness, a topic that reoccurred throughout the afternoon event. She encouraged financial participation to keep Project Involve viable. As a member of the inaugural program, Brown stated, “I can trace back every success I’ve had to Project Involve.”
The 2018 Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship annually selects an outstanding filmmaker and participant in Project Involve. The fellowship includes an unrestricted cash grant of $10,000 and was awarded to writer/director Faren Humes, a distinct and bold new voice.
Best Feature Film and Best Director respectively went to Get Out and the film’s director, Jordan Peele. Director Spike Lee introduced the Best Director Award revealing, “One thing I have learned, however you do it, whoever you do it with, making a great movie is always a motherfucker. One of the hardest endeavors.”
Although known for his comedy acting, Peele revealed that horror is his favorite genre. Get Out is his feature film directorial debut. In accepting the award Peele commented, “Receiving this award from Spike is crazy. Let’s make no mistake. I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for this man.” He addressed everybody in the room, “Our truths are the most powerful weapon we have against the lies in this world, so keep doing what we’re doing.”
When questioned in the pressroom about the Trumpian world we live in, Peele continued, “I meant what I said. I think that expression, conversation – that is the weapon again violence. That is the weapon against bigotry and hatred. This movie dove straight into bigotry and racism. We did it in an entertaining way.”
I, Tonya took home two awards. Best Supporting Female went to Allison Janney for the role of LaVona, written specifically for her by Steven Rogers. Best Editing was awarded to Tatiana S. Riegel.
As an aspiring figure skater in her youth, Janney used her experience, and the sacrifices of her parents, to understand what it takes to inspire such a high level of success. Her own inner critic helped her discover a voice for the character.
“It was difficult to find how I was going to be that mean to someone, and really sit in it comfortably, and feel that I wasn’t just being mean. To feel her methods were justified, and I was absolutely right in doing what I did to give Tonya an opportunity to have a better life,” revealed Janney.
To age 20 years in the film, Janney had to spend three hours a day in make-up. She credited not only hair and make-up, but also costume design for helping her grab onto the character.
“It helped everything. I’ve always looked forward to the moment when that comes together because I looked to the costume designer’s vision of who LaVona is. What they bring to the table, informs what I do,” said Janney. “What the make-up people and hair do, inform what I do. They enhance it. I’ve never been more excited than when I looked at what they did to me for the direct address scenes as the older woman. I was thrilled. I thought I would be just mortified seeing myself look like that, but I got really excited. I couldn’t wait to sit on that couch and tell my story. I thank them so much. They are all such creative geniuses.”
I, Tonya was the fifth film that Riegel edited for director Craig Gillespie. Her path to winning the award was paved by a “good story” and “good people.” Offering thoughts on why her editing has been so well received, Riegel, who also took home an ACE Eddie for editing the film, said, “I think it’s a really great film. It’s fun. It’s emotional. It’s sad. It’s tragic. And I think it’s something people don’t expect going in. They feel very differently at the end.”
Continuing their winning streaks, actors Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell took Best Female Lead and Best Supporting Male respectively for their roles in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Call Me by Your Name actor Timothée Chalamet garnered Best Male Lead. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom received Best Cinematography for his visual contributions to the film.
Greta Gerwig took Best Screenplay honors for Lady Bird, while Best First Screenplay went to Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick.
The Robert Altman Award was presented to the director, casting directors and ensemble cast of Mudbound. Director Dee Rees has worked with casting directors Billy Hopkins and Ashley Ingram since Bessie. She relies on their profession abilities.
“Every little thing I do, I call them first because they know faces. They know humanity,” remarked Rees. “I love actors who love to play and love to work. It is about everyone trusting each other and being willing to go there. I can’t put anything on the screen if these guys don’t give.”
Best First Feature went to Ingrid Goes West. Life and Nothing More won the John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for under $500,000. Best International Film and Best Documentary went to A Fantastic Woman and Faces Places respectively.
The 1st Annual American Airlines Bonnie Award, named after the first female pilot to fly for the company, was formed to honor a mid-career woman. It was presented to The Rider director Chloé Zhao, who credited her amazing crew for getting the film made. She added, “To all the strong women, thank you for being who you are and being a strong role model for us.”
The following is a complete list of the winners:
Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Producers: Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele, Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (A24)
Best First Feature:
Ingrid Goes West (NEON)
Director: Matt Spicer
Producers: Jared Ian Goldman, Adam Mirels, Robert Mirels, Aubrey Plaza,
Tim White, Trevor White
Best First Screenplay:
Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick (Amazon Studios)
John Cassavetes Award (For best feature made under $500,000):
Life and Nothing More (CFI Releasing)
Writer/Director: Antonio Méndez Esparza
Producers: Amadeo Hernández Bueno, Alvaro Portanet Hernández,
Pedro Hernández Santos
Best Supporting Female:
Allison Janney, I, Tonya (NEON)
Best Supporting Male:
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight)
Best Female Lead:
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Male Lead:
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Robert Altman Award:
Director: Dee Rees
Casting Directors: Billy Hopkins, Ashley Ingram
Ensemble Cast: Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Carey Mulligan
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya (NEON)
Best International Film:
A Fantastic Woman (Chile – Sony Pictures Classics)
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Faces Places (Cohen Media Group)
Directors: Agnés Varda, JR
Producer: Rosalie Varda