Independent Spirit Award Nominations Laud Diverse Voices

Lily Collins and Tessa Thompson - Getty - H 2017
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The spirit of indie film is alive, well and thriving, despite seismic changes to the industry, presenters told THR at the nominations ceremony Tuesday morning.

After several year in Hollywood, the newly opened Jeremy Hotel served as the new venue for the 2018 Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Now the event is a few miles closer to the Santa Monica shore, where Film Independent annually holds its signature awards ceremony, and the mood among the presenters was very sunny indeed, thanks in large part to the diverse cinematic voices numbered among the nominees.

Among the most nominated films were Call Me by Your Name, the coming-of-age story of an Italian teen’s discovery of his fluid sexuality; Get Out, the horror story-as-metaphoric-racial-commentary; Good Time, the crime drama featuring a transformative performance from former teen idol Robert Pattinson; and Lady Bird, the intimate, alternately personal and universal female coming of age story.

Also in the eclectic grouping with multiple nods were The Florida Project; I, Tonya; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriThe Big Sick; The Writer; Ingrid Goes West, Beatriz at Dinner; and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

“[The diversity] was remarkable,” said actress Tessa Thompson, who joined Lily Collins to deliver the nominations announcements. “I hope we’re just inching toward that being the new normal when we talk about the films that we acknowledge.”

“The work is so diverse and inclusive,” agreed Film Independent president Josh Welsh. “There’s a real range, from great genre-inspired filmmaking like Get Out to the complete artistry and out-there, the uniqueness of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. You have a film like Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, which is this beautiful, spare, very intimately told story about people who you would never see onscreen. The only unifying theme is that independent film is where people can bring their unique visions to life.”

Walsh noted that while he didn’t see a direct, inspirational relationship between the subjects explored in the nominated films and the current presidential administration or seismic cultural changes — look for those in next year’s crop, he suggested — he did see a prescient topical timeliness among several of the movies out there.

“I’m sure it was not made with the current administration in mind, but when I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the lead performance in there — Frances McDormand — she feels like she gives voice to female rage at injustice in a way that I think I’m excited to see [how] that film does theatrically and how audiences respond to that. To me, she's speaking as a powerful voice for this moment.”

Despite much mainstream success onscreen, both Collins and Thompson admitted that their personal tastes, both artistically and as audience members, skewed strongly toward indie film.

“Growing up, I didn’t know much about independent film,” admitted Collins after her presentation. “And then the more that I started working, the more scripts that I was reading, the more I realized that the scripts I was responding to were considered independent film…. Then I started watching independent film, and I thought, ‘Oh, wait — that film I loved three years ago – that was an independent?' I had no idea. It didn’t register.”

“For me, it was more about storytelling,” Collins continued. “And the scripts I was responding to were the ones where the character was gutsy and there was an edge to it that I don’t think necessarily would’ve been allowed in maybe a bigger budget film. Maybe a studio wouldn’t have taken a chance on a certain topic, where an independent film has less to lose and way more to gain in risk-taking. Those were the stories I was drawn to, so for me now as an actor, wanting to switch things up and try new things, those tend to be the stories that speak most loudly to me.”

“They’re just the films I grew up watching,” said Thompson. “My dad was a cinephile and he would show me films like that. And now as an adult, I loved the experience of going to Lady Bird, having watched Greta Gerwig in so many films, having been a fan of hers, and getting to see what her debut feature would look like, and it blew me away. I was so incredibly moved by that film.”

“There’s an intimacy to some independent films because they’re such labors of love for the artists,” the Thor: Ragnarok star added.

“The studios do a great job of making tentpoles, but they do fewer and fewer films every year and each film is bigger,” said Welsh. “And those have a place, but if you’re looking for anything else, anything more human-scaled, it’s coming from the independent sector.”

Welsh added that in spite of the film industry constantly reeling from massive changes in film scale and distribution models, the Film Independent membership — over 6,000 film lovers and filmmakers — has ballooned by 75% in the past six years.

“I’m very happy about that, and I’m also surprised by it,” he said. “It’s kind of an unexpected turn of events. But what I think it speaks to is that people really want to be filmmakers, be storytellers, and also support those stories, be able to watch them. So basically, for all the changes that have been going on, I think that independent film is alive and well, and more necessary.”

“There’s just something about smaller independent films that feel like a tight-knit family, and you’re all there for a common purpose,” added Collins. “And you may go through crazy times and it may be really difficult, but by the end of the day you have something that you’re so proud of that you can say, ‘But we accomplished this. We found a unicorn here.’ And that’s a great feeling.”