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Look out for more coverage of
The Spirit Awards in our magazines

SUBJECT: The Spirit Awards

February 21, 2009
One day before the Oscars were presented, the industry celebrated the best in independent film making with the Spirit Awards. The event is considerably more casual than Oscarsí epic display at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, this being held in tents on the beach in Santa Monica, California. With wine and champagne flowing freely for the nominees, their friends and the journalists, the atmosphere was more like a party than a stuffy ceremony.

Darren Aronofskyís The Wrestler was the big winner, taking the trophy for Best Picture and Best Actor for Mickey Rourkeís poignant performance. Other winners of Film Independentís Spirit Awards included Melissa Leo for Best Actress in Frozen River, James Franco for Best Supporting Actor for Milk, Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress for Vicky Christina Barcelona, Dustin Lance Black, for Best Screenplay for Milk and James Marsh for Best Documentary, Man on Wire, which chronicles Philippe Petitís remarkable tightrope walk between New Yorkís World Trade Center twin towers in 1974.

Whos are a-changing...One of the sponsors of the Spirit Awards,, brought their own star to the proceedings, a nine-year-old kangaroo Ė come on, when are you ever going to see that at the Oscars?



James Franco ďMy character in Milk, Scott Smith, is based on a real person. He was Harvey Milkís partner for four years. I think he was a very important part of Harvey Milkís like. He was there during a lot of the major changes in Harveyís life. They met in New York when Harvey was still very much in the closet and Scott was there when Harvey decided to come out of the closet. He was there when they decided to move to San Francisco, and he opened the camera shop with him. He helped him run his first couple of campaigns. And so I think he was a very important part of his life, but despite that, it was still hard to find a lot of documented material on Scott, so I really depended on the people that knew him personally for stories and to really get a grasp on who he was.

Iím in film school right now in the graduate directing program at Tisch at NYU, so Iím thinking about making my own movies and when I think of the kind of movies I want to make, theyíre they movie that Gus Van Sant makes (director of Milk). If I go to the cinema, these are probably the kind of movies I go to see. So, I donít know, I guess this is my awards show.Ē

Penelope CruzďPlaying Maria Elena was just a very exhausting process, it was good that my character was gone in four weeks, because I was destroyed at the end of each day, because Woody Allen really wanted that level of chaos in every scene and I remember thinking, if this was one of the those shoots that are seven months I donít know what I would have to do later to recover.
I got nervous today and I will be the same story tomorrow (at the Oscars). I want to enjoy the day and I want my family to enjoy that day whatever happens, like today if I hear my name I really want to be surprised, I donít want to expect it. If I donít hear it I want to be okay with it and have a great night. I really have to acknowledge to myself everything that has happened, and what a great adventure this has been for me and how privileged I feel to have been part of this event.Ē

Melissa LeoďIndependent film has raised me throughout the 25 years of my career, where work has been quite elusive, independent filmmakers have been known to take a risk on me, to believe in me, and hang on to me regardless, so today with the independent film recognition, Iím a little lost for words.
I could teach a whole seminar on independent film based on Frozen River, what worked, what didnít work, it seems to take forever [to get going], donít worry about that, stay true to your film I say to the young independent filmmaker and you will make your film and thatís the only way your film has a shot in hell of ever being seen.Ē

Dustin Lance BlackďI think we knew that Milk would either succeed or fail based on whether or not we could capture the spirit of Harvey, and the spirit of that love between him and Scott Smith is so important because if you donít feel like youíre rooting for what the gay and lesbian movement is fighting for, then youíre going to disengage and itís not going to feel personal. I feel like Sean Pennís performance really captured Harvey. I think thatís why this film has gone beyond the gay and lesbian community, which is what Harvey did.Ē

JAMES MARSH on whether he ever worried that the fact there was no footage of Philippe walking the wire across the twin towers would ruin the movie
ďOf course we wanted to have film and we scoured every possible angle to find anything but had it existed, we would have seen it a thousand times already. In some respects, just having still images felt really appropriate to what Philippe did, which was to kind of stop time and just create some magical moment for people looking up. So in that respect I was trying to be true to how I felt the walk was, like a little miracle, and the photographs just captured the miracle in a very peaceful way.
This is to me a really great award to see this kind of film celebration in America, and to me it sort of feels like the world that youíre in is larger. Iím not part of the Oscar world or the Academy world, but this is a world I am a part of and so to win an award here is really special.Ē

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Images above © Michael J Hixon
Feature © 2009 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #701, December 2008 cover

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