News

Independent Spirit Awards go through growing pains

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Those seeking a quick primer on Film Independent's Spirit Awards need only YouTube Mickey Rourke's acceptance speech at last year's ceremony.

The "Wrestler" star began his address — which clocked in at an Oscar-unfriendly six minutes — by imploring the room to hire Eric Roberts, then nearly broke into tears over the death of his dog and, in what may or may not have been a joke, threatened to beat up host Rainn Wilson over an impersonation.

Is Rourke available for an encore?

As the Spirit Awards prepares to stage its 25th-anniversary show Friday night in downtown Los Angeles, it will try to capture the anarchic tone that over the years has made it a fun and sometimes headline-worthy alternative to the Oscars. But reaching that high bar won't be easy. The show has instituted changes in venue, time and format, and also must cope with the contraction of the specialty-film business, an absence of the year's most buzzed-about independent film and the eternal question of its balance between the indie and mainstream.

When Film Independent, the nonprofit that runs the Spirits and the Los Angeles Film Festival, announced last summer that it was making a number of changes to the event, the announcement was greeted with a few raised eyebrows. The group was moving the awards out of its slot on the Saturday afternoon of Oscar weekend, which it had occupied for the past 10 years, to an 8 p.m. Friday slot. The show was also moving from its customary location under a large tent on the beach in Santa Monica to a venue at the L.A. Live complex.

Those may seem like trivial changes, but in the small, incestuous world of independent film — which can be just as tradition-bound in its way as its studio counterpart — many veterans privately wondered if the Spirits was simply trying to save a few pennies. In the process, they said, it was fair to ask if the show would lose its let-down-your-hair feel.

But organizers have said that they simply wanted to mix up the familiar, which is why they've made other changes, like eliminating a group of popular song parodies in favor of performances from nominee Jeff Bridges and the band members featured in "Anvil!: The Story of Anvil." "If it's the same every year, we risk it becoming rote," said Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson.

The group's partners have by and large embraced, and even encouraged, the change. The Independent Film Channel, which has aired the show live in recent years, says it was always on board for a live nighttime airing, even if the telecast pushes well after 11 p.m. on the East Coast. "There are more eyeballs in late night than on a Saturday afternoon, especially for an audience predisposed to loving what's off the beaten path," said Jennifer Caserta, general manager of IFC.

The Spirit Awards, which this year will be hosted by British comedian Eddie Izzard, must also contend with the absence of arguably the most widely acclaimed independently-made film, "The Hurt Locker." Because Kathryn Bigelow's war drama was submitted, and also earned nominations (two, both in the acting category), last year, it was not eligible for consideration. That could create a head-scratching paradox: An indie film not mentioned at the Spirits goes on to win a bucket of Oscars later in the weekend. (Film Independent says it could revisit its rules for next year.)

What the show will feature is a mix of movies that are fiercely independent, as well as some that may stretch the definition. Its best-picture category includes — in addition to boutique pictures with limited theatrical releases such as "Amreeka" — movies with sizable marketing budgets that have grossed $30 million or more, including "(500) Days of Summer" and "Precious." And it will feature several nominees, including "A Serious Man" and "Adventureland," that were made entirely with studio money, certainly at a higher end of the independent-budgetary spectrum.

But organizers say that money should not be the only yardstick for a Spirits nominee. "You can't pigeonhole a film as being more independent if it's made on six figures than if it's made on seven figures," said Rebecca Yeldham, director of the Los Angeles Film Festival who is also involved in the awards show (and was a producer on "Anvil"). "It's all about the spirit of the film."


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.