What are the Indie Spirit Awards? No, really, what are they? What purpose do they serve? Logic would suggest that they celebrate films that exemplify the spirit of independent filmmaking. You know, like an ambitious director with loads of talent and a singular vision that all the studio big-wigs passed on who maxes out his credit cards to make a subversive, cutting-edge film that breaks all the rules and speaks to some elusive, universal truth. Well, Not exactly. Apparently what’s considered indie these days is anything made for under $2o million, regardless of distribution, big-name actors, or studio backing. So really, the Indie Spirit Awards should be called The Movies That Hollywood Didn’t Have Enough Faith in to Support With Robust Marketing Campaigns Awards.
Neither the quality of the films nor their supposed indie-ness really have anything to do with being nominated for, or winning, a Spirit Award. The fact that the pedestrian Lee Daniels picture, “Precious Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” was the big winner at this year’s ceremony is proof enough that the Awards are hardly what they claim to be. I mean “Precious”? Really? A mediocre, at best, film made for $11 million that perpetuates every black stereotype imaginable and exemplifies boorish For Your Consideration, commercial filmmaking in every conceivable way is apparently the best “independent” picture of the year? I wonder, how would the late, great John Cassavetes, who’s namesake adorns the made for under $500,000 category, feel about the bastardization of his legacy?
The nominated films, almost invariably, are the most high profile pictures around made for less than $20 million. I understand the desire to recognize films that people have actually seen. But doesn’t that line of thinking defeat the very idea of independent film? Furthermore, at least seven films nominated in some Spirit Awards category are also nominated for Oscars. Doesn’t that kind of massive overlap render the Spirits utterly obsolete? Not to mention the Awards are sponsored by giant, multi-national corporations including Acura, LG, and Elle. Now that’s what I call indie!
The Spirit Awards are just one casualty in a growing trend of corporate cash-ins on the mainstream appeal of indie culture. With the gentrification of indie bastions like New York’s Greenwich Village and large pockets of Inner London, and the commercialization of once free-thinking havens like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and South by Southwest, what it means to be “indie” is being muddied by the gnawing urge to make a buck. Anything innovative or artistically challenging created truly independent of corporate interference or influence nowadays is immediately seized upon by the world’s profiteers, watered down to the point of impotence, and promptly sold to the unwitting mainstream as cutting-edge. And as long as impostors like the Independent Spirit Awards continue to sell themselves as representatives of the exciting, subversive and free-wheelin’ underground, nothing will change.