2008 Awards Roundup for Independent Film

Each winter as the calendar prepares to turn a new year, the independent film community takes stock. From the vast array of new and established film festivals and theatrical releases large and small, 2008 was a vibrant year in independent film. There is much to celebrate this New Year as the much-anticipated awards season has already kicked off. A few of the long string of accolades ushered into the hands of filmmakers this year are listed below.

Gotham Independent Film Awards

The Gotham Independent Film Awards, selected by distinguished juries and presented in New York City, are the first honors to kick off the awards season. This year’s 18th annual celebration was held at Wall Street’s Cipriani—an event packed with the city’s film elite—all proceeds of which support IFP’s programs for independent filmmakers.

Founded as a satellite program of the New York Film Festival in 1979, IFP, seeking to “broaden the palette of cinema,” has evolved into the nation’s oldest and largest organization of—and advocate for—independent filmmakers. This public showcase honors the filmmaking community, expands the audience for independent films, and supports the work that IFP does behind the scenes throughout the year to bring such films to fruition.

This year, Frozen River, the Courtney Hunt-directed drama about a New York mother getting into the world of illegal immigrant smuggling, came out a big winner. It was recognized as Best Feature, beating out Ballast, Synecdoche, New York, The Visitor, and The Wrestler. The film also collected the Breakthrough Actor award for Melissa Leo’s performance.

The category for Best Documentary was a tight race between some big-hitting films. Man on Wire, which has become one of the best reviewed films in years, was up against the controversial Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired, as well the veteran master Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. But the honor went to Trouble the Water, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s portrayal of Hurricane Katrina as told through the lens and lyrics of aspiring rap artist Kimberly Roberts and her streetwise husband.

The award for Breakthrough Director went to Lance Hammer for his first feature film Ballast, a powerful and poetic look at a Mississippi Delta family torn by suicide and violence. Hammer, whose film took home honors for best director and cinematography at Sundance in 2008, is among the rare class to make the leap from Park City, Utah to secure a prestigious slot at the 2008 Berlinale as well.

And Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You honored Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley’s animated retelling of the classic Indian tale Ramayama and her own romantic woes. The film, which has received several hats off in the festival circuit, including a mention at the 2008 Berlinale, is set to 1920s recordings of jazzy vocals of Annette Hanshaw, an authenticity inherent to the film that has also created significant obstacles to licensing and, in turn, distribution.

Other winners included Synecdoche, New York and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which were tied for the title of Best Ensemble Performance.

To learn more about the Gotham Independent Film Awards and view a complete list of nominations and recipients, visit: http://gotham.ifp.org/

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists: The EDA Awards

Second up in the line of film accolades already bestowed: The Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ third annual EDA Awards, another New York event held this year at Circa Tabac—a regular hangout for the city’s downtown filmmakers and artists.

The annual EDA Awards recognize work by women—both in front and behind the camera. Presented each December by the AWFJ, the EDAs are named in honor of AWFJ founder Jennifer Merin’s mother, Eda Reiss Merin, a stage, film, and television actress whose career spanned more than 60 years. The EDAs are a classic “Best of” roundup with categories including best narrative, documentary, and foreign film; best director, screenplay, and editing; and best actor, actress, and ensemble performance. But the folks at AWFJ also offer a handful of Female Focus Awards and special mention awards that vary each year.

While the films honored at this year’s EDA Awards may indeed represent some of the year’s best, few were, in fact, made by or about women. Among the various winners, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire took home awards for both Best Film and Best Direction. The film, which captured the, often foretelling, Audience Award in Toronto, is a Dickensian story that weaves independent film elements with a star-crossed romance well-fitted for major theater audiences. Cited as the feel-good film of the year, Slumdog Millionaire was up against Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and Gus Van Sant’s Milk—the same three were in the running for Best Direction as well.

This year’s EDA Female Focus Award, which recognizes a specific category for Best Female Director, went to Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) from a strong list of nominees including Isabel Coixet (Elegy), Kimberly Peirce (Step Loss), and Kelly Reichert (Wendy and Lucy).

Like the Gotham Independent Awards, the EDA Award for Best Documentary was, again, a very close decision. The list of three nominations included Man on Wire, Trouble the Water, and Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris’s examination of the treatment of prisoners in the hands of US forces at Abu Ghraib. The voting process resulted in a tie and honor shared between Man on Wire and Trouble the Water.

To learn more about the EDA Awards and view a complete list of nominations and recipients, visit: http://awfj.org/eda-awards/

Film Independent’s Spirit Awards

Now in its 23rd year, Film Independent’s Spirit Awards has established itself as the premier awards event to honor independent film exclusively. The Spirit Awards, described on the website as “a celebration of the spirited pioneers who bring a unique vision to filmmaking,” keeps its roots in Los Angeles where the tented beachfront celebration in Santa Monica brings together the best of independent film.

Each year statues are awarded for categories including the Best Feature, First Feature, Feature Made for Under $500,000 (the John Cassavetes Award), and Documentary, as well as achievements in Direction, Screenplay, and Cinematography.
This year’s winners will be honored in full ceremony and broadcast live on IFC on February 21, just one day before the Academy Awards. The nominees in the running represent a strong sample of independent filmmaking of 2008. Some highlights include:

“Best Feature”
Ballast, Frozen River, Rachel Getting Married, Wendy and Lucy, The Wrestler

“Best Director”
Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), Lance Hammer (Ballast), Courtney Hunt (Frozen River), Tom McCarthy (The Visitor)

John Cassavetes Award
In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Prince of Broadway, The Signal, Take Out, Turn the River

Best Documentary
The Betrayal, Encounters at the End of the World, Man on Wire, The Order of Myths, Up the Yangtze

To learn more about Film Independent’s Spirit Awards and view a complete list of nominations, visit: http://spiritawards.com/nominees

Cinema Eye Honors

The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking were founded in 2007. The first event was held last March at the IFC Center in New York City in which Jason Kohn’s Manda Bala received three awards, including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, and Alex Gibney received the Cinema Eye for Director for his work in Taxi to the Dark Side.

AJ Schnack and Thom Powers, who co-chair the event, certainly understand a thing or two about independent film. With Indiepix, the New York-based online film distributor, as the presenting sponsor and producing partner for this year’s event as well as a nominating committee comprised of 15 of the top festival programmers of nonfiction films, this 2nd annual event promises to deliver the best of documentary filmmaking of 2008.

The recently announced shortlist of 15 films has already stirred some excitement as it includes a number of titles that many felt were unjustly omitted from the Academy’s shortlist, including Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Ellen Kuras’s The Order of Myths, and Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz with Bashir.

As the Cinema Eye Honors press statement reads, “These fifteen films represent every facet of nonfiction filmmaking, from classic cinema vérité to films that employ animation, actors, and narrative storytelling in often groundbreaking ways.”

Nominations for the 2nd Annual Cinema Eye Honors will be announced January 19, 2009 in Park City, Utah. The Honors will be presented March 29, 2009 in New York City.

American Teen
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The English Surgeon
Forbidden Lies
In a Dream
Man on Wire
My Winnipeg
The Order of Myths
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Standard Operating Procedure
Stranded, I’ve Come From A Plane That Crashed On The Mountains
Trouble the Water
Up the Yangtze
Waltz with Bashir

To learn more about 2009 Cinema Eye Honors and view a complete list of nominations, visit: http://www.cinemaeyeawards.com/awards/infhome.html

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