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The Gotham Awards are traditionally seen as the kickoff for Oscar season, but before Monday night’s celebration of independent film, Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer laughed that the early-season bash didn’t seem like the beginning.
“It’s hilarious. People keep telling me today’s the beginning, and it feels like we’ve been on this march for a little while now,” Singer told The Hollywood Reporter, laughing, ahead of Monday night’s ceremony. “I think the greatest thing is just that the film seems to be connecting. Looking at how we’ve done at the box office the last four weeks, it’s thrilling not just because we’re making money but also because people are going to the film and talking about the film. And the emails that I’ve been getting from all sorts of friends and acquaintances — that’s been incredibly gratifying. If the film continues to connect and awards season helps the film to connect with more and more people, that’s really the greatest thing.”
Singer’s sentiment of wanting people to see the film was echoed by producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust, with the latter saying that the awards attention Spotlight has been receiving is just “icing on the cake.”
“I think the most important thing for us was to make the movie that we wanted to make and we’re thrilled with what we did. And we’re thrilled at the reaction that we’re getting,” Faust said.
Rocklin added, “I think most importantly right now we want people to see the film, because it was a labor of love for seven years or seven and a half years. So right now we’re really focused on people seeing the film and seeing it on the big screen. And that’s the most important thing to us that we’re focusing our attention on.”
Singer, Rocklin and Faust were just some of the many members of the Spotlight cast and crew in attendance at the Gotham Awards, where the awards hopeful took home three awards, including the top prize of best feature and a special jury prize for its ensemble.
Of that award, Liev Schreiber, who plays editor Marty Baron, said, “It feels great because it’s nice to be involved in a substantive film and when you have a story that’s important, you’ve got to let the story lead, and everyone on this film was smart enough to allow that to happen … I’m just grateful that everybody took a backseat to the story. And it’s wonderful to get acknowledged for doing that.”
The actor added that he hopes the film, about the Boston Globe‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into years of child abuse by Catholic priests and a subsequent cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese, “reminds people how important” the type of reporting represented in the film is.
“I think it’s so important that we have vibrant and independent and well-funded journalism in this country so that it can hold powerful organizations and individuals accountable,” Schreiber said ahead of the awards ceremony that was also attended by a number of the real-life journalists portrayed in the film.
iPhone-shot film Tangerine was also a multiple award winner at the Gothams, taking home the breakthrough actor prize for star Mya Taylor and the audience award, voted on by members of the Independent Filmmaker Project, the organization that presents the Gothams. Tangerine recently scored four Independent Spirit Award nominations, but as awards season is beginning, director Sean Baker said he was less concerned about awards and more interested in his cast getting attention.
“I don’t care about winning best picture, best director, any of that stuff, but I do care about my two lead actresses getting the recognition they deserve and them being able to parlay this into the future,” Baker said. “That’s really the only thing I’m thinking about.”
The film follows two black transgender prostitutes on the L.A. streets as one, fresh out of prison, goes on a Christmas Eve rampage to track down the pimp that cheated on her.
Despite his cast including two transgender women, Baker stressed the need for diversity behind the camera.
“I’m a cisgender white guy telling a story about two trans women of color who are sex workers,” Baker told THR. “The next film that’s done about this should be directed or written by a trans woman of color. I mean, that would be the ideal situation, but the opportunities don’t come to them so easily … The doors have to be opened for people to have the opportunities I had.”
Meanwhile, Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller, whose female-focused film went into the show with four nominations and saw its star Bel Powley take home the best actress prize, urged people to keep talking about the need for more women behind and in front of the camera.
“I think these conversations need to keep happening, and I think we’ve reached a tipping point now where the public has started shaming Hollywood, thankfully, about getting better about what has been an atrocious problem for so long,” Heller said. “And I think the more we talk about it, the better.”
Powley said she hoped the film, which was released in August, found more female fans.
“I just hope that women and young women get to see this movie because that’s the reason I made it,” she said. “I don’t think there are enough movies that portray female sexuality in an honest way and that’s what this is doing.”
Going into Monday night’s event, hosts Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson had modest but specific goals.
“In an ideal situation, I would hope that everyone is really just like totally comfortable and like, ‘Wow, this is really enjoyable,’ mixed with some intermittent big laughs would be great,” Jacobson said.
Glazer concurred. “Yeah, I think three big laughs would be great. Three big laughs [would] make everybody feel like — I like the feeling comfortable — like they’re not so on because we’re on for them.”
Similarly, Love & Mercy star Paul Dano, who ended up winning the Gotham award for best actor, had low-key expectations for the evening.
“I guess right now I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to get in there. I’m going to get a drink with a bunch of friends, bunch of my New York community and people I’ve worked with, people I admire, hang out, have fun.’ I feel super happy to be here and to be thought of,” he said.
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