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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Indie Xenophobia Not In The Spirit

I am saddened by the response to The Artist winning all but one award it was nominated for at the Independent Spirit Awards yesterday. Because it seems less like a comment on the film than on its otherness.

I have been whining about the Indie Spirits for years. It’s not that there are not deserving talent nominated or awarded in the process. It’s the ideas behind the whole enterprise. What is the intention?

If it’s meant to be The American Independent Spirit Awards, call it that. World Cinema has been an increasing component of what used to be the independent movement. Why isn’t this show celebrating the entire culture of independent-minded cinema, as its rules suggests it seeks to do? Last year, The King’s Speech won Best Foreign Film. Not only does this read as stupid… but it hamstrings the opportunity for some great and much more independent-minded foreign language films to be awarded.

But the whine this year seems to be, “Why wasn’t The Artist relegated to Foreign Language?” Well, it wasn’t in a foreign language. It was shot in Los Angeles. It is about Hollywood. All but 2 of the actors in the film were American. But as MCN’s own Len Klady wrote, “Where I come from when you total everything up The Artist is more pommes frittes than French fries.”

Oy.

Len was hardly the only one whining about yesterday’s big winner and calling for a look at the Indie Spirits rules. But the idea of FIND changing the awards rules specifically to exclude a film like The Artist from qualifying, honestly, makes me want to vomit.

I was screaming at the back of the room yesterday when The Interrupters won. I sought out Steve James and added my “Fuck the Academy” to the parade of similar sentiments. But there too… the idea of the Doc branch adjusting rules to try to speak to the frustration of the best doc of the year – and also Senna and Bill Cunningham and others – not getting nominated is wrong headed. If the rules of that committee allow one or two people to use their personal disdain to kill a film and there is no recourse within the branch even though there is a significant percentage of branch members who think that film deserves consideration by the entire branch, THAT rule must be changed… not for The Interrupters, but because it is a bad, bad rule.

The Independent Spirit Awards system is broken… but not because The Artist won yesterday. And change being inspired by this black + white, silent film about Hollywood, shot in Hollywood, is the kind of change that is likely to make things worse, not better.

To my eye, the big change to the ISAs came in 2004. In 2003, Best Feature was Far From Heaven. Best First Feature was The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. But more importantly, the competition for Best Feature was The Good Girl, Lovely & Amazing, Real Women Have Curves, and Tully. Best First Feature challengers were Interview with the Assassin, Manito, Paid in Full, and Roger Dodger.

Amongst first features, only Roger Dodger had a large indie release, from Artisan. The Features group was less indie, with Focus distributing the winner and nods to Searchlight, Lionsgate, and Fine Line. ZERO Best Picture nominees.

2004: Feature – Lost in Translation, American Splendor, In America, Raising Victor Vargas, and Shattered Glass.
First Feature – Monster, Bomb The System, House of Sand & Fog, Quattro Noza, Thirteen

OR Focus, Searchlight (2), Fine Line, DreamWorks, Lionsgate, Newmarket. And half of the 10 films were Oscar contenders.

By 2005, Fox Searchlight has four films nominated, two in Feature (Kinsey & Sideways, Oscar Best Picture nominee) and two in First Feature (Garden State & Napoleon Dynamite), winning both. Sony Classics, Fine Line, and Newmarket are also represented.

in 2006, it was Crash as First Film vs Brokeback Mountain as Feature in an Oscar duel with 4 of the 5 Oscar BP nominees nom’ed for Indie Spirits.

The winners of the last 8 Feature Film ISAs:
Black Swan, Precious, The Wrestler, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Brokeback Mountain, Sideways, Lost in Translation.

The winners of the last 8 First Film ISAs:
Get Low, Crazy Heart, Synecdoche, New York, The Lookout, Sweetland, Crash, Garden State, Monster.

The Wrestler is the only Feature Film winner in 8 years not to be an Oscar BO nominee.

Sweetland and The Lookout are the only First Feature winners in 8 years not to have big public muscle behind them (remember, Monster was a Charlize Theron Oscar lock).

There are two sets of issues in play. First, there is the nominations process, which always seems to be a combination of pandering to the big boys and Friends Of FIND. Second, there is the final vote, which is a commercial/awards season popularity content, as the people voting for these awards are not qualified by anything other than their willingness to pay $75 a year to see a lot of indie films for “free” and to vote. Popularity contests are neither shocking nor broken. If you want a higher standard, you need to start with a higher standard.

Obviously, the blood has been in the water at the Indie Spirits for years. The last two years of the show have been painful for most attendees. And the shows themselves, not much better.

But for yesterday’s unhappy expedition, The Artist is taking the brunt of it. Unfairly. Other big factors are a major lack of celebrity at the event this year, as only 5 of the 20 Oscar nominees were in attendance, which – also perhaps adding to the animus – did not include the stars of The Artist. Had Jean Dujardin been there, shaking hands and being charming in accepting Best Actor, the tone might have been different.

Regardless, it certainly is time for a change in the system at the ISAs. The indie business has changed dramatically over these years and while ISA adjusted to a Dependent-driven market, it hasn’t done much to move into the current era, which has been quickly evolving for about 4 years.

Ironically, and I think Kristopher Tapley said it well, The Artist is the kind of movie that the Indie Spirits should be celebrating, not yawning and pissing about. But the lack of enthusiasm was unavoidable yesterday. Everyone seems to have felt it. I just wish that one movie that deserves love for making it to where it’s gotten wasn’t taking a beating instead. It’s unfair. And I do think it’s become far too easy for a lot of liberal thinkers to make light of “those fucking French.”

4 Responses to “Indie Xenophobia Not In The Spirit”

  1. It’s Best International Film. Not Best Foreign Language Film. A key distinction.

  2. But I agree with you. The film is the very embodiment of what those awards are meant to be about.

  3. sanj says:

    is there a indie awards in europe – can drive win over there instead of hte artist ? and we shall call it even ?

  4. tc says:

    Does someone hate Steve James? Is that why he keeps getting screwed over by the doc committee?

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