Sure, it takes place the day before the Oscars, but there is no mistaking the IFP Spirit Awards for that other glad- handing, statuette grabbing shindig. Held under a tent at the Santa Monica seashore, the 15th annual ceremony was yet again an exercise in casual Saturday. Everyone left their fancy duds at the cleaners for Sunday pickup, instead choosing Oscar- inappropriate chinos and halter tops (though host Jennifer Tilly sported a $10,000 metallic Gucci sheath ”just because I wanted to”).
Instead of gliding off for the Governor’s Ball, Spirit Award winners and losers could choose between hyperventilating at the backstage oxygen bar or stopping in for a cyberchat with ifctv.com. And it isn’t likely you’ll ever hear any Oscar winners pleading for domestic distribution in the press room. ”If you know of anybody, I’m in San Francisco, and I’m in the book,” said documentary award winner Owsley Brown (”Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles”), only half kidding.
But even if the event didn’t have the Academy stamp of approval, it was still a Hollywood happening. Cell phones buzzed, Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein held court backstage, and most of the nominees weren’t obscure indies but movies you’ve seen at the local cineplex. Nominees included ”Election,” ”The Blair Witch Project,” ”Boys Don’t Cry,” ”Being John Malkovich,” and ”Go!” To keep low-budget indies in the running, the IFP split the Best First Feature category for the first time this year, with an under $500,000 budget and over $500,000 budget division. ”We’ll reevaluate after this year,” said IFP President Dawn Hudson. ”It was arbitrary. It could have been $100,000, it could have been $350,000, it could have been $1 million.”
The arbitrary division suited winning ”Blair Witch” writer/director Daniel Myrick just fine. ”Hey, splitting the category was really good for us,” he shrugged. Still, Myrick doesn’t expect his luck to hold up. We probably won’t be standing up here next year with ‘Heart of Love,”’ he said. ”It’s probably the most politically incorrect movie imaginable, so be prepared.”
But other Spirit winners had plenty of awards brouhaha to look forward to with the Oscars just a day away. ”This is a lot of stress,” admitted Best Supporting Actress winner Chloë Sevigny, who claimed she accepted the role in ”Boys Don’t Cry” because she developed a crush on the real-life Teena Brandon after seeing pictures of her as a man. ”I’m losing more and more sleep with each day.” Best Screenplay winner Charlie Kaufman (”Being John Malkovich”) was less excited. ”Getting this is nice,” he shrugged. ”But they’re all nice.”
Richard Farnsworth was less concerned with the Oscars than with using his newly improved status to pull rank with the John Deere company. ”I’m gonna see if I can get me a big tractor,” he said. One of the few Spirit winners who would also take home Oscar gold, Hilary Swank played it cool. ”I think any recognition you get is an honor, and more importantly it makes me aware that people are responding to the movie,” she said.
Though it all added up to a fun day at the beach (which was later topped off with EW’s 10th-anniversary party, which drew such stars as John Waters, Michael Stipe, and Eddie Furlong), there was at least one voice that rose over the party din to suggest a reality check. Though the awards look for uniqueness of vision, the casts and crews of many of the nominated films seemed disappointingly monochromatic.
”I don’t think independent films put black actors in them at all,” Forrest Whitaker told EW Online. ”I think studio films hire more black actors than independents do. Sam Jackson is working in the studio system, Denzel is, Wesley is. You don’t see a lot of Asian faces or Native American faces or Hispanic faces. I don’t know why it is, but I’m just saying it’s easy for me, looking at the nominees, to say that it’s true.”