Dawn Hudson, Film Independent

Film Independent's executive director offers her take on the Spirit Awards' new moniker and its ongoing mission to promote indie cinema.

There's nothing overly complicated about the rebranding of indie film's highest-profile awards ceremony, according to Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, which oversees the organization's Spirit Awards, set to take place Saturday. The idea, she says, was to streamline the name of the event while simultaneously promoting her organization -- meaning that the famously spontaneous ceremony will go on as usual. Hudson recently spoke with Beth Pinsker for The Hollywood Reporter about this year's roster of nominees.

The Hollywood Reporter: Last year, the Spirit Award nominees closely mirrored the Oscar nominees, but not so this time around. Was that intentional or merely a reflection of the marketplace?
Dawn Hudson: The list is kind of old-school independent style. I'm not sure if it reflects a trend in marketplace. We'll have to see after a few years. Most of the time, it's just what films are produced that year. Sometimes, there are a lot of films with high-profile actors and low budgets, like "Capote," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" last year. But even when we have the high-profile films, they are always reflecting the pool of independent films. This year, there aren't as many of those, and instead, some of the interesting films with real independent vision -- like (New Line's) "Little Children" or (Universal's) "Children of Men" -- had budgets over $20 million (putting them over the limit for the Spirit Awards). It just worked out that over half of our films nominated were made for $1 million or under. The Spirit Awards always have a majority of films that are well below the radar of mainstream press. What happens is that more high-profile films take more of the ink on the Spirit Awards, but we take a lot of pride in the fact that we honor the full spectrum. We honor those terrific films that get wider release, and we honor the ones that fly more under the radar.

THR: The best feature and best first feature nominees are very similar this year. Is it still necessary to have the two separate categories?
Hudson: We added first feature and first screenplay categories in 1994 just to ensure that the Spirit Awards continued to cover the full scope of independent filmmaking. Sometimes, the best feature category can be made up of the higher-profile films like (Fox Searchlight's) "Little Miss Sunshine," but not always. (2000's) "George Washington" was a best feature nominee, for instance, while (1999's) "Being John Malkovich" was a best first feature. The best feature category is meant to capture the best features of the year, and the best first feature is to make sure we include in the mix films that are simply not as well known. It's really a way of expanding the number of films we are highlighting. We draw attention to them and hope that more people will seek them out and see what incredible talent they display.

THR: Has the nomination process changed at all?
Hudson: No, not at all. We have a nominating committee of industry professionals -- it's not the same people every year, but the same professions are represented, like producers, critics, actors, casting directors. Then the whole membership votes on winners. This year, like in past years, Film Independent and (Independent Feature Project) members all vote. Our sister organizations have always had that privilege, so nothing has changed.

THR: What about changing the name of the event? Has that generated any confusion?
Hudson: I don't think so. The name change was just (because) we didn't want to double up on the word "independent." Overall, though, I think it's been a really smooth transition. Even at last year's awards, people acknowledged Film Independent by name (the organization changed its name to Film Independent, or FIND, from IFP/Los Angeles in May 2005). So, the new name is out there and will continue to grow.

THR: Netflix seems to be taking on an even greater role this year. How important is the company's involvement given that so many of the nominated films do not have distribution?
Hudson: One great change we made three years ago was when we partnered with Netflix. They (created) a special Spirit Award site so that all of our members could log on and could get nominated films delivered to their homes. You just sign up, and the films would be populated into your queue. Then, what's incredible about this is that to make the process fair, Netflix also assumed the responsibility and financial burden of making master DVDs and dubs of those films that don't have distribution.

THR: Besides Netflix, what are some of the other new sponsorship developments?
Hudson: We have a new partner in Axium Entertainment, and along with IFC and Acura, they are putting up the money for three $50,000 grants for new filmmakers -- that's up from $25,000. That's a nice bonus for a new filmmaker, isn't it? (The) spotlight is nice, but cash is always better.

MORE SPIRIT AWARD COVERAGE:
Prize possessions: Spirit Award coveted by veterans and newcomers
No experience required: Nominees offer fresh perspective
Show time: Bleachers enhance red-carpet experience
Dialogue: Film Independent's Dawn Hudson
2007 Spirit Award Nominations
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