Independent cinema was honored at the 22nd Annual IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards on Monday night, November 26, at Cipriani on Wall Street, New York City. While there were some surprises at the official kick-off of the movie awards season, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom winning Best Feature probably wasn’t one of them.
Hosted by Mike Birbiglia, the stand-up comic who made his directorial debut with the independent comedy Sleepwalk with Me earlier this year, the Gothams kicked off with a taped segment of Jimmy Kimmel poking fun at one of the year’s honorees Matt Damon, joking that “nobody embodies the spirit of independent film like Matt Damon” before listing his blockbuster studio movies.
Although Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild was snubbed as the favorite to win the Audience Award to Jared Leto’s personal doc Artifact, Zeitlin went on to win Breakthrough Director and a few minutes later became the first recipient of the inaugural Bingham Ray award, a prize package worth $60,000. “Beast’s” young star Quvenzhané Wallis didn’t take the award for Breakthrough Actor award as some expected, as that instead went to Emayatzy Corinealdi of Ava DuVernay’s indie drama Middle of Nowhere, another movie which got a lot of attention at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Zeitlin (left) was very excited to be at the Gothams and to have been presented with the awards. “We were really far outside ” he said when we spoke to him after his first win. “I didn’t know any filmmakers when I made this film really, it was a very off the grid movie, so getting to come out and meet this community and meet all these artists that I admire at an event like this is really special.”
Best Doc went to David France’s How to Survive a Plague about men and women who have successfully fought the death sentence of AIDS. France and his collaborators gave a moving speech after winning.
Marion Cotillard was also being honored with a tribute, another step in her road to the Oscars for her performance in Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone. We’ll have a full interview with her later in the week.
David O. Russell (right) was another honoree, accepting his tribute by listing all the independent filmmakers that inspired him and all the great actors he’s worked with, and we had a chance to talk to him briefly after his win. Because of that, Russell was watching backstage when his Silver Linings Playbook cast lost to Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister in the Best Ensemble category. Shelton’s cast of Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt were whisked through the pressroom so quickly, not really talking to anyone, so we didn’t get to ask them “Didn’t this movie premiere at Toronto in 2011?”
“This is very important to me,” Russell told us. “I wrote my script here in New York, I lived here for many years, I had all my dayjobs here. I was a waiter at events like this, I was a bartender at many events while I was a writer. My whole family is from Brooklyn and Manhattan so New York means everything to me and (as far as) independent cinema, I shouted out to Gus Van Sant because he’s one of my heroes. These are people who helped show us the way. Scorsese and De Niro, those are the filmmakers that started independent cinema here in New York and we all learned from them.” Undaunted by awards seasons, Russell’s going into production in February on his new movie starring Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Amy Adams, a currently untitled movie about the 1970′s Abscam scandal.
The festivities closed off with Moonrise Kingdom‘s win for Best Feature, which seemed like the most obvious bet, although only three Gotham winners have gone on to receive Best Picture nominations at the Oscars: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (which won), Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life last year and Winter’s Bone in 2010. The win does help Moonrise Kingdom‘s chances at getting a Best Picture nomination, although other movies that didn’t win in the Best Feature category like Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan and Alexander Payne’s The Descendants ended up doing fine and went on to far more Oscar accolades than the winners those years.
Either way, it was a good night for Promised Land, the drama co-written and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant even though it wasn’t up for any awards on its own. Producer Jeff Skoll of Participant Media was honored with a tribute, as was Damon, his tribute presented by Krasinski, while Rosemarie DeWitt, another star of the film won for Your Sister’s Sister alongside Blunt, Krasinksi’s wife. As he mentioned above, David O. Russell also namechecked Van Sant during his speech. What’s interesting about the smalltown drama that deals with fracking is that it’s probably the closest to a full-on independent film Damon has made in the past few years, so it was a good time for all of them to be seen at the Gothams with the movie opening in roughly a month.
You can see more pictures of many of the winners and honorees in our Gallery.