Independent Spirit Awards: Richard E. Grant, Barry Jenkins and More Talk About the Future of Film

While many lament a lackluster slate of likely Oscar winners, the Film Independent Spirit Awards celebrated the best in independent film from 2019. Hosted by Aubrey Plaza, the Indie Spirit Awards captured the spirit with exciting awards for the predicted winners like Glenn Close and Richard E. Grant, and some fun surprises for films like “En el séptimo día.”

We were on the blue carpet and in the press room to talk with winners, nominees, and excited attendees about the future of film, inclusion, and independence. You can see the complete list of winners here.

“It’s incredibly flattering,” said Bo Burnham, whose film “Eighth Grade” won the award for Best First Script. “It’s a community I’ve been a fan of,” he said. Burnham went on to share his thoughts on the real reason for his success. “What people are really rewarding in the film are the performances. I think it really is Elsie [Fisher]‘s performance that people are rewarding. The script is kind of road kill. It’s dead until life is breathed into it.”

Debra Granik, who directed the triple-nominated “Leave No Trace,” talked about the way critics have helped keep her film part of the conversation. “This year has been a really good one,” she said. “The journalists that supported the film really put out good material that a reader, people that are interested in films, cinephiles, arthouse goers, all kinds of people… could read why the journalists were responding… and that meant a lot to me. There was a lot of care put into those words.”

After accepting the Bonnie Award, which recognizes groundbreaking female directors, Granik told the roomful of reporters that winning the award, “It’s encouragement. It’s mainline encouragement.” Addressing her own film specifically, she went on to say, “Survival is not a sure thing for a lot of people… I’m interested and care about and want to make that part of my storytelling.”

Talal Derki, who was nominated for a Spirit Award and the Oscar for Best Documentary with “Of Fathers and Sons,” spent two and a half years making a film that he hoped would shine a light on issues of radicalization in Islamic families. He told us, “I’m happy to be here. This is the best! The happy end for any filmmaker. If we win or not, this is already a big achievement. This has put the film in a place where many people are going out to see it.”

Documentary filmmaker RaMell Ross stopped to speak about “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” He “The process for me was reconnecting with cinema of the banal, reconnecting with life, reconnecting with origins of what is black culture, as vast as it is.” Regarding his twin nominations for the Spirit Award and Oscar, Ross said, “It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy. People say, ‘Oh, this is insane.’ No, it’s really insane, though!”

Sandy Tan, director of Spirit nominated doc, “Shirkers,” said going to Netflix made all the difference for her film. “I’m getting mail from kids in El Salvador and Spain and sending me theories and telling me their life stories and how it’s changed them. That’s an amazing thing.” She said the biggest realization she has had through the lifelong process of “Shirkers,” has “made me realize that I’m still the same person. That the teenage me is still part of me and I’m singing a strange duet with her.”

After accepting his award for Best Supporting Male for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Richard E. Grant charmed the press room. “I’ve never been nominated for one of these before. I’ve been around for almost 40 years doing this business. It’s an astonishment to me that I’m being nominated for this award.”

When asked if the on-set mood was different with a female director, Grant said, “Completely and utterly. Because the movie I had done just before was ‘Logan,’ which was a 300 strong team of men, testosterized with arms thicker than my thighs. Guns and fucking camera cranes and machinery and everybody being mean as shit and cutting people’s heads off. So to go to a movie where people actually talk to each other and care for each other. It’s about human failure, love, all of that was as big a contrast as you can possibly imagine. And she’s a brilliant director, Marielle Heller.

Nicole Holofcener, one half of the winning writing team for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” also took a discuss Heller’s lack of a directing nomination. “I don’t know if it’s because she’s female. This could just as easily happen to a male director. It’s equally unfair and just strange. It’s really strange. I’m nominated for a million things, the actors are nominated. They didn’t direct themselves. So I feel Marielle was cheated and I think back on that, and I know if I were in her shoes, I’d be pretty upset too.”

Alfonso Cuarón‘s “Roma” took home the award for Best International Film. The director, who is also personally nominated for five Oscars, discussed the reach of the film since its release. “That is the thing that excites me the most… The film opens certain discussions about things that are important. Discussions that should have happened decades and months and years ago. One of the important ones is the one about domestic workers. I feel so, so, so happy that great organizations like the National Alliance for Domestic Workers in the US and Mexico, they’re using ‘Roma’ as a platform for their movement.”

Morgan Neville talked about “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the Mister Rogers film that won Best Documentary. “Who knew that Mister Rogers was the man of the moment? When I started this film, I felt it… It’s like the antidote to this toxic shithole world that we have. It turned out to be the right message for the moment. We can actually do better by being better to each other.”

When Neville said the film was about building common ground and learning to be good neighbors to people we don’t agree with, producer Nicholas Ma added, “I do think the fact that so many people saw the film, and loved the film, is a wonderful sign. It’s a reminder that maybe these things actually do exist in the world, even if we don’t always see them… I think being here tonight, being celebrated tonight is a reminder that these things are something we want to celebrate as a culture. That is a sign of hope, and it’s incumbent on us to do something with it.

Boots Riley took the prize for Best First Feature with “Sorry to Bother You,” a film set in Oakland, California, which serves as an indictment of capitalism and greed. Riley used his time to further emphasize his message. “Growing up,” he said, “I got involved in movements that showed me that all the struggles we’re talking about are related to material things. Things we can actually change. And that the root of our power has to do with what we’re doing every day, which is creating profit for someone. We can have power react to us by stopping that by organizing on the job, having movements that use withholding of labor as a tactic and a strategy for social change.”

Glenn Close won the award for Best Leading Female for her role in “The Wife.” Her character, Joan, long ago forsook her own ambitions in support of her husband. Close said, “It taught me a great deal, the journey of doing this film. I started to understand the difference between being a mother and a wife, and then having personal fulfillment. Two different things.” She also expressed support for director Björn Runge, adding, “He’s one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with and I don’t think my performance would be as powerful as it is without his direction.”

She also took a moment to praise fellow Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio, who presented Close with the Spirit Award. “There are so many invisible people in the world. They’re people who do the work that keeps us going… And I think that what moved me about her performance was that basically she was portraying a woman who was one of the invisibles. And the thing that really moved me was that every single person has a story, no matter who they are. And that story counts.”

The biggest win of the day went to “If Beale Street Could Talk,” written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Jenkins also won Best Director. He won dual prizes after missing the same nominations at the Oscars, but was thrilled to win the Independent Spirit Award. “I feel a certain kind of way about it,” he said. He went on to discuss the work. “James Baldwin published this book 45 years ago, and many of the things he was talking about are still relevant today. Some of these issues with mass incarcerations, civic injustice still happen.”

Jenkins also referenced his Oscar-winning film, Moonlight,” and finding financing. “When you win Best Picture, the purses kind of open up a bit… I want to thank Megan [Ellison] for stepping up and deciding that James Baldwin should be cinematic history.”

He talked openly about the thrill of winning awards. “I’ll be honest, when I started making movies, I wanted to win these things. I thought it was impossible to win the other things. Somehow, through mixing up of envelopes and whatnot, we won the other thing, but being here is really cool… And also, when you win Best Picture, it doesn’t change who you are.”

What were some of your favorite moments at the 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards? Comment below and share!


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Written by Karen M. Peterson

Karen Peterson is a writer from Southern California. When she is not at the ballpark cheering on her LA Angels, she can usually be found in a movie theater or in front of the television. Karen is obsessed with awards shows, and loves everything from the smallest indie film to the biggest of big budget spectacles. She is also unapologetically in love with Tom Cruise.

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