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Gotham Awards Sell Out: IFP Fundraiser Betrays Org's Mission

by Anthony Kaufman
October 24, 2006 2:28 AM
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That's the headline that some indie film observers would have liked to see when the Independent Feature Project announced its five nominees for its annual Gotham Awards, which include three major studio-financed pictures, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Todd Field's "Little Children," and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette," along with low-budget gems "Old Joy" and "Half Nelson." While it may help bring in the bucks for the humble nonprofit, the studio choices are an embarrassment to New York's independent film community.

At one point, I wasn't even going to write about this, because it's so vividly clear: the Gothams have sold out to the highest bidder, looking for glitz, fame and fortune rather than being a place to honor the innovative work of indie filmmakers. When I confronted one of the nominating committee members about the decision to include the $90 million budgeted "The Departed," the person responded, "Michelle Byrd kept stressing that the Gothams should include big studio pictures. . . She told us to pick the best five movies out of the list of films that were submitted. I even asked if there should be a budget cap on what was being considered, and she said no."

To be fair, we can't blame Michelle Byrd, personally, for anything. She is serving the mandate of her board, of her advisors, and of her constituents -- although I can't see how the nominees actually reflect their interests. What must Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker and Tom Bernard be thinking? Or do they have to save face and support their parent company's release "Marie Antoinette" rather than see one of their own films nominated?

Being the person who often laments the loss of indie spirit to corporate control, my email box has been a repository of rancor in the last 12 hours...

"If Stephen Colbert were hosting the Gothams, he'd take issue with the inclusion of 'Old Joy' on the list," writes a friend. "Financed, in part, by the deep pockets of Kino International, 'Old Joy' practically danced it's way to the screen. While Scorsese went hat-in-hand to the Brothers Warner, pleading on his knees for money to pay for Nicolson's contractually obligated prostitutes."

And another wrote, simply, "Can you explain this to me? I'm not being sarcastic. I just don't get it. "Half Nelson," and "Old Joy" and...."The Departed"? I thought the IFP was for independent films. On what basis are they choosing this film?"

Apparently, the criteria is simply about choosing directors who exert creative control over their pictures. So, basically, there is no criteria -- except to insure that a certain amount of gloss fills the proceedings. What would New Yorker Films' Dan Talbot say about today's Gothams?

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