On the sprawling floor of the restaurant Cipriani, on Wall Street, four lanky women wearing stilettos and Shopska hats stood smiling with trays of Russian Standard Gotham Yule, a vodka mix that included Ginger Beer and lime juice. A thinly mustached manager suddenly appeared and asked the ladies not to cluster together, but to circulate the filling room.
Set squarely in Hurricane Zone A, where a few weeks ago Sandy flooded streets and caused power outrages, the twenty-second edition of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s annual Gotham Awards was nonetheless in high spirits Monday night. Kudos to show producers for selecting Jimmy Kimmel to introduce show host Mike Berbiglia, who made a stellar debut, and for paying tribute to Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, David O. Russell and Participant's Jeff Skoll. (Full list of winners on the jump.)
Kimmel kicked things off zestfully, saying that “Most of all, we are here today because if we don’t give ourselves these awards, who will?” Berbiglia, noting that there was no budget to hire writers on the show, read jokes he said he had received from his Twitter followers.
As guests arrived, some familiar looking, some totally not, I found myself next to Andrew Hurwitz, a lean, top independent film attorney with Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. “The future of independent film is television,” he told me. A few feet away, Cinetic Media’s John Sloss declared, “The future is here and it’s bright,” elaborating that the future for independent films means taking a multiplatform approach to distribution.
Sipping a glass of red wine, soft-spoken Academy Award-winning director Robert Benton said he was encouraged by the fact that people can now make movies for under one million dollars. “It allows more movies to get made,” he said. “If it’s a good movie, people will go and see it.” He added that he especially enjoyed such 2012 releases as “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Argo,” “Amour,” and the documentary “Waiting for Sugar Man.”
Later in the evening, as he received his tribute award, Damon recalled attending the Gotham’s fifteen years ago for “Good Will Hunting,” wearing a borrowed suit from Calvin Klein that was worth more than all his clothing combined. “That was the first moment,” he said, “when my life got surreal.”
By night’s end, it became clear that independent film as it was known in the 1990s and prior may not be changing as quickly as some people predict: the future may also include smart, socially significant, well-funded films that get old-fashioned, meaningful theatrical distribution with actors as talented and genuine as Damon and Cotillard.
Samuel Goldwyn is said to have told a producer on his MGM lot, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Well, a gentleman who cares about our planet and evidently the future of independent film, believes now is NOT the time to shy from sending messages via films, and from following those messages up with robust social medial campaigns. His name is Jeff Skoll and he’s quietly becoming as significant as Goldwyn was in his day. Since 2004, the articulate founder and CEO of Participant Media has brought to life a heartening array of films--forty-one to be exact. Skoll has been vital at precisely the time when filmmakers have been forced to reinvent paradigms to bring small films to wider audiences. “Independent films define the spirit of the industry,” he told the welcoming New York crowd, following a video tribute with clips from such Participant films as “Good Night and Good Luck,” “The Help,” and “The Inconvenient Truth.”
Skoll’s slate this year includes “Promised Land,” “Middle of Nowhere,” and “Lincoln,” films that are among the thrilling bang of smart, risk-taking fare reaching screens before year’s end. Focus Features CEO, James Schamus, wearing his signature bow-tie, told me his company did a study that looked at the number of screens and the number of new movies coming out on them.
“There has never been a more crowded year in the history of our industry,” he said. Noting the glut of possible Best Picture candidates among already released or soon-to-be released films, including his company’s “Anna Karenina,” “Promised Land,” “Hyde Park on Hudson” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” he lamented that more Oscar-worthy films aren’t coming out earlier in the year. “Oscar movies can and should be released any time of year,” he added.
If the Gotham’s are any indication, the last of these may already be on track for a long award-season run: “Moonrise” took home the night’s Best Feature award, while Fox Searchlight’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the resonant film set in a post-Katrina-like Bayou, won two Gothams--Breakthrough Director for Benh Zeitlin and the First Annual Bingham Ray Award—as well as a lot of love from a region that just survived its own Katrina.
Winners are below, and here's Indiewire's backstage coverage.