Indie Spirit Awards hit milestone 25th year
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When organizers for the independent film world's Spirit Awards unveil nominees for its honors this coming Tuesday, they will be doing more than just singling out top movies in the low-budget, art house arena.
The members of Film Independent, the group that sponsors the Spirits, will be putting its first touches on celebrating 25 years of honoring movies that once were dismissed by Hollywood studios but now are the stuff of Oscar legend.
In fact, the rise of the Spirits closely tracks the growth of the independent movie movement throughout the 1990s and 2000s as major studios began focusing on big-budget flicks and franchises such as the "Harry Potter" series, leaving serious drama -- the stuff of Oscar winners -- to low-budget filmmakers working outside the major studios.
"The awards embody that movement. They say, 'this is important in our culture,' said Dawn Hudson, who heads up Los Angeles-based Film Independent, or FIND.
Hudson calls the "artists" who work in the indie arena, "the creative heart and soul of the movie industry."
In recent years, indie filmmakers have given audiences work such as best picture Oscar nominee "Little Miss Sunshine"; handed actors like Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" a second chance at stardom and even put a movie like this year's "The Hurt Locker" on the map for Hollywood to watch.
After playing at festivals in 2008 "Hurt Locker," about an army bomb squad unit that defuses bombs, was nominated for two Spirits -- best male lead for Jeremy Renner and best supporting actor for Anthony Mackie -- among its accolades in a year during which war films mostly flopped at box offices.
With critical acclaim supporting it, distributors held the movie to release in 2009, when audiences seemed to be more receptive to war dramas, and "Hurt Locker" earned roughly $16 million at box offices -- a healthy sum for an indie movie.
For their upcoming awards, which take place on March 5 2010 just ahead of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Oscars, the Spirits are moving from their daytime luncheon on the beach, to a nighttime show in downtown Los Angeles.
"We are excited to celebrate 25 years in a new way, and as much as we loved the beach, we felt like every once in a while, you need to change it up," Hudson said.
Hudson claims the awards will not lose any of their casual style or reputation as an informal event where actors, actresses and others can let their hair down a little. As is typical, the stars will not dress in tuxedos and gowns and the cocktails will still flow.
Director John Waters ("Polyester," "Hairspray") remembers the time that Jack Valenti, who once ran the studio-backed Motion Picture Association of America, "arrested" him onstage at a time when the studios were pushing hard to clamp down on the distribution of free DVD "screeners" within the industry.
"To me, it was always an incredibly high profile job to host, because every person who could greenlight a film of mine was in the audience," he joked. "I still go every year. It's my annual trip to L.A. It's when I show my face.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)