If the Academy Awards didn’t have the “Avatar” vs. “The Hurt Locker” showdown in the mix and the novelty of 10 Best Picture nominees, the big story this year might be about the Oscar’s indie cousin: The Independent Spirit Awards. The annual gathering known for its irreverent speeches and let it lose attitude is celebrating its 25th anniversary honoring the best in indie film and decided to make a big move in the process.
Traditionally, the Spirits have been held early Saturday afternoon the day before the Oscars in a huge tent near the Santa Monica Pier. However, this year, the Spirits are moving to downtown Los Angeles and into a home at the LA Live complex adjacent to the Nokia Theater and Staples Center. Moreover, the show will now take place in prime time on the east coast the Friday night before Oscar. Will that mean bigger ratings and exposure? It’s unclear, but the enthusiasm for the changes was apparent when I spoke to Dawn Hudson, Executive Director of Film Independent, the non profit organization that runs both the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival among other endeavors.
“I’m excited for trying new things. I’m excited to see if we get more viewers so more people know about these movies. That’s my No. 1 goal and hope for the show,” Hudson says.
Hudson revealed that while the shows broadcaster, IFC, had discussed the pros and cons about such a move for a few years, the show’s 25th Anniversary spurred everyone into “trying something different.”
And while many came to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in Santa Monica, Hudson says, “Even something perfect and beautiful [and] really, really fun can start to feel stale. We just didn’t want you to feel we were going through the motions.”
In fact, Hudson makes the excellent point that the event should feel more like a party “at 8 PM as opposed to 11:30 AM in the morning.” Plus, we both agreed having the show on a Friday will only give it more visibility during Saturday’s news cycle. Many times, the show’s results were an afterthought only 12 hours later with the Academy Awards (aka LA’s Super Bowl) dominating the media landscape the next day.
This year Film Independent has also made an excellent decision in bringing in comedian Eddie Izzard to host the show. The British stand up has a long history of working in Hollywood (and in the independent film world) and should be more comfortable in the role than last year’s selection Steve Coogan. As for what else might be new, Hudson says that while much of the show is still in flux, they do hope to bring more music into the program. However, she notes, “The great thing about IFC that is uncut, uncensored and hands off in terms of creative control.” So, get ready for some surprises.
Film Independent is also in an envious position this year with the Los Angeles Film Festival even though it’s sadly the result of someone else’s misfortune. Because of the economy, many regular festivals on the circuit such as Cinevegas and AFI Fest have had to shutter or temporarily suspend operations. That means more quality films with recognizable filmmakers and stars ooking to get some notoriety in an attempt to land distribution. In this commentator’s opinion, less competition and the perilous state of U.S. independent distributors should find LAFF programming their most ambitious and noteworthy slate yet.
“We feel that responsibility about getting these films and out they can connect with their audiences,” Hudson says. “How do they find them? Where do they see them? That’s what we consider our job for both the Spirit awards and the festival.”
And that’s why there everyone in the industry knows the Spirits and festivals like the LAFF are more important than ever.
The 25th Annual Independent Spirit Awards air live on Friday, March 5 at 11 PM ET/ 8 PM PT on IFC.
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