A dozen years ago when the Independent Feature Project decided to bestow awards to the best independent films, a board member had to lure people to screenings with home-popped popcorn. But all that has changed dramatically.
Just last month an IFP screening of the four-hour version of "Hamlet" drew 550 people--with many others having to be turned away--and this on a Saturday morning two weeks before Christmas.
"It was a club that not many people wanted to belong to," says Dawn Hudson, executive director of IFP/West, "but now independent film is big business."
This year there were a record 142 submissions for the IFP-sponsored Independent Spirit Awards, and 25 of those received nominations Thursday in 12 categories. The films must demonstrate "economy of means" (i.e., a low budget) and must show "original, provocative subject matter and uniqueness of vision," Hudson said.
The film receiving the most nominations was "Fargo," with six. "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "The Funeral" each received five nominations.
Nominees for best feature are: "Dead Man" (Miramax Films), directed by Jim Jarmusch; "Fargo" (Gramercy Pictures), directed by Joel Coen; "The Funeral" (October Films), directed by Abel Ferrara; "Lone Star" (Sony Pictures Classics), directed by John Sayles; and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (Sony Pictures Classics), directed by Todd Solondz. Best director nominees are Coen, Ferrara, Solondz, David O. Russell for "Flirting With Disaster" and Robert M. Young for "Caught."
The films selected must have been shown at a commercial theater during 1996 or have played at one of six major film festivals in the United States. All films must be American-made. So English-language films made in Australia or England, for example, are eligible only for the IFP's best foreign film award.
First-time directors are honored in the category of best first feature. Those nominees are: "Big Night," directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci; "I Shot Andy Warhol," directed by Mary Harron; "Manny & Lo," directed by Lisa Krueger; "Sling Blade," directed by Billy Bob Thornton; and "Trees Lounge," directed by Steve Buscemi.
Best actress nominations went to: Maria Conchita Alonso, "Caught": Scarlett Johnson, "Manny & Lo"; Catherine Keener, "Walking and Talking"; Frances McDormand, "Fargo"; and Renee Zellweger, "The Whole Wide World."
Actors receiving nominations were: Chris Cooper, "Lone Star"; William H. Macy, "Fargo"; Chris Penn, "The Funeral"; Tony Shalhoub, "Big Night"; and Stanley Tucci, "Big Night."
Nominees for best debut performance include Jena Malone, "Bastard Out of Carolina"; Heather Matarazzo, "Welcome to the Dollhouse"; Brendan Sexton Jr., "Welcome to the Dollhouse"; Arie Verveen, "Caught"; and Jeffrey Wright, "Basquiat."
Best supporting actress nominees include Queen Latifah, "Set It Off"; Elizabeth Pena, "Lone Star"; Mary Kay Place, "Manny & Lo"; Lili Taylor, "Girls Town"; and Lily Tomlin, "Flirting With Disaster."
Best supporting actor nominees include Kevin Corrigan, "Walking and Talking"; Benicio Del Toro, "Basquiat"; Matthew Faber, "Welcome to the Dollhouse"; Gary Farmer, "Dead Man"; and Richard Jenkins, "Flirting With Disaster."
Best screenplay nominations went to: Joel and Ethan Coen for "Fargo"; Jim Jarmusch for "Dead Man"; David O. Russell for "Flirting With Disaster"; John Sayles for "Lone Star"; and Nicholas St. John for "The Funeral."
Best first screenplay nominees include Suzan-Lori Parks, "Girl 6"; Lisa Kruger, "Manny & Lo"; Michael Scott Myers, "The Whole Wide World"; and Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano, "Big Night."
Nominations for best foreign film went to: "Breaking the Waves" (Denmark); "Chungking Express" (Hong Kong); "L'America" (Italy); "Secrets and Lies" (United Kingdom); and "Trainspotting" (United Kingdom).
Best cinematography nominees include Roger Deakins, "Fargo"; Ken Kelsch, "The Funeral"; Robby Muller, "Dead Man"; Bill Pope, "Bound"; and Rob Sweeney, "Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day."
Some of the acclaimed performances given awards by critics' groups and other organizations and being mentioned for potential Oscar nominations--such as Geoffrey Rush's troubled pianist in "Shine," Brenda Blethyn's distraught mother in "Secrets and Lies" and Emily Watson's love-struck naif in "Breaking the Waves"--were ineligible since those were not American-made movies, Hudson said.
Independent pictures are increasingly drawing larger numbers at the box office and consequently are influencing which movies are being made by major studios.
And there will likely be some overlap between the Oscars and some of the IFP's picks--many have predicted "Fargo," "Lone Star," "Big Night," "Secrets and Lies" and "Breaking the Waves" may receive Academy Award nominations. But, Hudson said, the organization particularly focuses on the lower-budget and less-publicized independent films.
The IFP is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting quality American independent filmmaking and in addition to film screenings, offers educational seminars, a resource library and support services. Its 8,000 members vote for Independent Spirit Award winners. The awards will be presented the Saturday before the Oscars, March 22, in Santa Monica.