The “Independent” Spirit Awards: On What Planet???

26 Feb

The Spirit Awards were a great party for such Oscar contenders as The Artist, The Descendants, and My Week with Marilyn, but the film that perhaps best embodies the true spirit of independent filmmaking is Pariah. The film stars Adepero Oduye as a Brooklyn African American teenager coming to her terms with her sexual identity. Her parents are played by Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans. Produced for less than $500,000, the film was written and directed by Dee Rees; Spike Lee is credited as one of many executive producers. Though ignored by the Academy, Oduye was nominated for a Spirit Award, and the film has been honored by the National Board of Review and the Image Awards. It first garnered attention at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Well, last night was the night of the Independent Spirit Awards, also known more simply as the Spirit Awards (sponsored by the non-profit “Film Independent” organization), but I have to wonder on what planet would some of these movies be considered “independent”?

  • Best Picture – The Artist
  • Best Director – Michael Hazanavicius, (The Artist)
  • Best Female Lead – Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  • Best Male Lead – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • Best Supporting Female – Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
  • Best Supporting Male  – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • Best Screenplay – The Descendants by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • Best Cinematography – Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist)
  • Best International Feature – A Separation (Iran)
  • Best Documentary – The Interrupters
  • Best First Feature – Margin Call (directed by J.C. Chandor; produced by Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto)
  • Best First Screenplay – 50/50 by Will Reiser
  • Robert Altman Award – Margin Call
  • John Cassavetes Award (for Best Feature made for under $500,000) – Pariah (written and directed by Dee Reeds; produced by Nekisa Cooper)
  • Piaget Producers Award – Sophia Lin (Take Shelter)

Let’s unpack some of this: Okay, yes, so Bob and Harvey Weinstein are no longer affiliated with the Disney multi-media conglomerate, per their original Miramax company, but the brothers seemingly spend more money on awards campaigning than do the major studios. To clarify: studios have long campaigned for Oscars, so that’s not news. Even big-name stars have been known to hire their own publicists and campaign advisors during awards season, but the Weinsteins are so much more nakedly aggressive about their pursuit of awards glory.  Indeed, their choices are what pretty much killed Miramax over at Disney. Keep in mind, there have long been tales that the Weinsteins would sometimes spend more money on Oscar campaigns than on actual films. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that without massive amounts of hype, films like The Artist and, especially, My Week with Marilyn would have ever gained much traction with Oscar voters.

To clarify: The Artist is a European financed film that the Weinsteins picked up for distribution in the U.S., but not only does the company believe in spending lavishly on Oscar campaigns, the two brothers who run the company have been known–back in their Miramax days–to significantly reedit foreign movies for American theatrical release.  (Update: The Artist recently made a haul at the French César Awards though star Jean Dujardin lost in his category to Omar Sy for Intouchables.) Oh, and go check out the Weinstein company website. At the bottom of the home page, there is a banner advertising the company’s partners, one of which is L’Oreal Paris, part of the L’Oreal mega-conglomerate which owns such brands as Garnier, Maybelline, Softsheen,  Lancôme, and many more than you can probably imagine. Anybody who’s ever watched Project Runway, as I do every week, can’t help but be aware that L’Oreal is one of the show’s sponsors (with lots of product placement besides). Of course, the show is a Weinsteins’ production; moreover, a frequent guest judge–and now a regular on the All-Stars edition–is none other than fashion designer and Marchesa brand co-founder Georgina Chapman, a favorite among red carpet regulars. Chapman is also  Mrs. Harvey Weinstein.  Ya, you betcha, sure.

The Descendants is from Fox Searchlight, the “boutique” arm of  20th Century Fox. The studio has an obviously well-funded and rigorous campaign strategy. (And, again, in what world does Shailene Woodley’s performance in The Descendants come even close to approaching the brilliance of Janet McTeer in the more typically independent Albert Nobbs?)

Beginners, a movie I love, was filmed independently though released in the U.S. by  Focus Features, which to quote its website, is “A division of NBC Universal.”

Margin Call is from Lionsgate, and, so far, my research has not turned up any official links to a major conglomerate. The movie also carries the Roadside Attractions logo.

Take Shelter, which many critics believed featured an Oscar worthy leading performance by Michael Shannon, was indeed produced outside of the corporate Hollywood superstructure though it was picked up for distribution by no less than Sony Classics. So far, the film has grossed slightly more than a million dollars, which is about how much it cost to make. If it ever played in Dallas, I missed it. It is soon to be available on DVD/Blu Ray.

I’ll give credit to the makers of Pariah as well. Even though, yes, it is also distributed by Focus Features, the fact that it was filmed for a meager sum of less than a half million shows its roots as a true independent.

Thanks for your consideration…

The “Film Independent” website:

The official Spirit Awards website:

Entertainment Weekly covers the Spirit Awards:

Reuters report on the Cesar Awards:

The Weinstein Company:

L’Oreal’s brands:

Official Focus Features website:



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