Gotham Awards Go Beyond Film to Honor TV and Web Series

Jane the Virgin - H 2015
Scott Everett White/The CW

Jane the Virgin - H 2015

The indie-minded awards ceremony has expanded to add two new prizes for longform and shortform programming, allowing 'Jane the Virgin,' 'Transparent' and other breakout shows a chance to be recognized.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

For the past 24 years, the Gotham Independent Film Awards, true to its name, has celebrated indie film, but this year, as it marks its 25th anniversary, the New York-based awards ceremony, which will be held Nov. 30, is doing something new — opening its doors to honoring both serialized television and web content.

The Independent Filmmaker Project, which presents the Gothams, announced in September that it had decided to add two "Breakthrough Series" prizes for continuing or limited longform programming (whose episodes run 30 minutes or longer) and for shortform programming (which consists of more than five episodes, with the majority running less than 20 minutes). Nominees in the longform category consist of the acclaimed new series Jane the Virgin, Mr. Robot, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and UnREAL.

The new categories reflect a growing awareness that independent film "is not just happening in film anymore," says IFP executive director Joana Vicente. "So many of the filmmakers that we support are really moving very fluidly between TV and the web," she adds, citing as an example David Fincher's work on Netflix's House of Cards.

"It is our 25th anniversary, and I think with any big anniversary, you kind of look back and look forward, like, 'What is the future?' and 'Where are we now?' and 'Are we still relevant?' and 'How can we really continue with our mission and our mandate to bring attention and awareness to independent film?' " says Vicente of the decision to venture into a new category. "It just felt like a good reflection of where the independent filmmaking community is."

To decide exactly which series to shine its spotlight on, IFP used criteria similar to the guidelines it uses to determine its film nominees. The rules state that the series "should be realized with an economy of means, and characterized by innovation, risk-taking, creative freedom and vision and the introduction of new voices and nontraditional subject matter that enrich the landscape or push the boundaries of 'television.' " In 2006, the Gothams were criticized for nominating the $90 million-budgeted The Departed but since have stuck more to the lower-budgeted end of the film world. And, as they surveyed the current television scene, that meant a lavish show like HBO's Game of Thrones wouldn't be eligible, even though it might meet some of the category's other criteria.

The IFP also added another requirement, restricting the field to series that premiered between Sept. 1, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2015. Vicente says honoring new shows, rather than considering established programs, simply reflects the way the Gothams treat films, where the focus always has been on movies released during a given year. The Gothams' focus on new programming, Vicente notes, will prevent the same shows from being nominated year after year — as they sometimes are at the Emmys.

Have the indie-minded Gothams become part of a trend? The more mainstream Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics' Choice Awards are combining their film and TV awards for the first time at their January ceremony. And the Golden Globes and many guild ceremonies also now honor TV alongside film during the weeks leading up to the Oscars.

Says Vicente, "We're going to try to evolve with storytellers to honor their work however they're doing it. It's a living thing. It's not like we have an agenda. This feels right for the time and for our members and for independent film."