"Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Benh Zeitlin with his…
NEW YORK -- The concept of money--filmmakers' need for it, their freedom without it--infused Monday night's Gotham Independent Film Awards, one of the first major shows of the burgeoning season.
Benh Zeitlin, the director of the Southern magical-realist tale "Beasts of the Southern Wild," noted the extraordinary freedom that came from making his movie as a low-budget project outside any established system, while Jeff Skoll, the wealthy entrepreneur who founded the socially conscious film label Participant Prods., was feted as a kind of benevolent capitalist for the movie business.
Skoll helped me "confront my stereotypes of billionaires," said the director Ava Duvernay, whose prison-themed marital drama "Middle of Nowhere" was financed by Participant. It helped her, she said, smiling, erase a conception of the uber-wealthy that previously landed "somewhere between Thurston Howell III and the dude with the monocle in Monopoly.”
Meanwhile "Your Sister's Sister" star Mark Duplass explained director Lynn Shelton's absence by saying she was off directing lucrative television that allowed her to make low-budget films. (Sufficiently low-budget, said Duplass, that there were established crew members who worked on their indie darling for about $100 per day.)
The top prize of best feature at the Gothams--a kind of glitzier, East Coast version of Los Angeles' Spirit Awards--went to Wes Anderson's quirky pre-adolescent love story "Moonrise Kingdom," while Zeitlin won for breakthrough director. (You can read a full list of winners here.)
But perhaps as much as any award, the Gothams, overseen by a group called the Independent Film Project, are notable for who turns out. The ceremony serves as a snapshot of sorts for which Hollywood personalities are considered part of the indie world and, at the same time, which indie personalities are on the verge of breaking out to a bigger stardom.
On the first count, the list was notable. David O. Russell (“The Silver Linings Playbook”) was given a lifetime achievement prize; in introducing him, “Silver Linings” star Jacki Weaver noted that “to work with Russell is to step out of your comfort zone, but it's exhilarating and terrifying and wonderful, and the results speak for themselves."
Marion Cotillard (the recently released “Rust and Bone”) and Matt Damon (the upcoming “Promised Land”) were also handed lifetime prizes. Damon sounded a humble note when he said he's "never taken [acting] for granted," and joked that before the release of "Good Will Hunting" he knew he'd arrived when he was given a Calvin Klein suit that was worth more than all the clothes he'd ever owned in his life combined. (Of his ongoing quest to work with David O. Russell, Damon also quipped: "You're like a wolf and I'm like Sarah Palin in a helicopter.")
As for emerging names, “Middle of Nowhere” star Emayatzy Corinealdi was a standout in winning breakthrough actress, while Zeitlin continued his breakout year, winning two prizes. (His film received a third shout-out when the director of audience award “Artifact,” a documentary about a lawsuit against Jared Leto and his band, practically apologized that fellow nominee “Beasts” didn’t win the award, noting wryly that “many of you haven’t seen [my] movie.)
The event, held in the downtown event space Cipriani Wall Street, was hosted by comedian Mike Birbiglia, who seemed slightly put out when some of his jokes early in the evening didn't land.
"Are you humorless?" he asked the crowd when a quip about actors riding up to the show in taxicabs elicited a muted reaction. "That was funny."
The evening also took on a more somber tone as Bingham Ray, the independent-film maverick who died in January, was paid his due. Handing out an award named for Ray to "Beasts" director Zeitlin, Oliver Platt called the late film executive "incendiary, effective and entertaining."
"One of the bittersweet aspects of his death," Platt added, "is that he wasn't around to experience the hoo-ha."