"The Farewell" Wins Best Feature At Film Independent Spirit Awards
Lulu Wang, center, accepts the award for best feature for "The Farewell" at the 35th Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif. Robert De Niro, from left, Anita Gou, Andrew Miano, and Daniele Melia look on. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
  • SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP)
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At a Film Independent Spirit Awards that often stood in stark contrast to Sunday’s Academy Awards, Lulu Wang’s family drama “The Farewell” took the top prize, while Adam Sandler and the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” also landed awards. 

The win Saturday for “The Farewell” was a surprise, but also a fitting finale to a Spirit Awards that exalted female filmmakers and put forth a far more diverse field of nominees than the film academy. Wang referenced the conversation around the dearth of female filmmaker nominated by the Academy Awards in her speech. 

“You don’t have to encourage women. There are lots of women making films, in film school,” said Wang. “What women need is just the job. Give them the freaking job!” 

The Spirits, held in an ocean-side tent on the Santa Monica, California, beach the day before the Oscars, often diverges greatly in tone from the weekend’s other, more formally attired award show across town. But the winners — including “Moonlight,” “Spotlight” and “Birdman” — have often lined up.

Yet more so than in years, the Spirit Awards hardly overlapped with the Oscars this time around. “The Farewell” was shutout by the film academy, which instead heaped nominations on bigger-budget epics including “1917,” “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” and “The Irishman.” The Spirits, the premier awards ceremony for indie film, cap nominees at a budget of $22.5 million. 

“The Farewell” also won best supporting performance by a female actor for Zhao Shuzhen, the grandmother (“Nai Nai”) in the film. Many expected the award to go to Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”). Wang said Shuzhen, a Chinese actress, couldn’t attend the show because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

The boutique studio A24 dominated the Spirits, winning trophies for “The Farewell,” “Uncut Gems” and “The Lighthouse.” “Uncut Gems” led all films with three awards, including best performance by a male actor for Sandler, best director for Josh and Ben Safdie, and best editing. 

Sandler, who received a standing ovation, compared his Oscar “snub” to losing best looking in high school. But he did win best personality, an honor he compared to his Spirit Award. 

“As I look around this room, I realize the Independent Film Spirit Awards are the Best Personality Awards,” Sandler joked. Referring to the Oscar nominees he said, “Their handsome good looks will fade in time, while our independent personalities will shine on forever.”

Only one Oscar favorite among the actors was also competing at the Spirits: Renee Zellweger. She won for her performance in the Judy Garland drama “Judy.” “Cheers to you from the beach, Ms. Garland,” Zellweger said. 

And just one movie up for best picture on Sunday was nominated for the Spirit Awards’ top prize: Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” It won for Baubmach’s screenplay and was awarded the Spirits’ ensemble award, dubbed the Robert Altman Award. 

Baumbach thanked “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho — the category’s expected co-winner on Sunday — for not being nominated for best screenplay. (Though a favorite for top awards on Sunday, “Parasite” won a single award at the Spirits, for best international film.)

In his second speech of the afternoon, Baumbach dismissed the idea that independent film and the Spirit Awards are “the minor leagues.”

“To me the movies we’re celebrating here today, they are the movies,” said Baumbach. “They are as major as anything.”

While this year’s Oscars  only feature one acting nominee of color, the Spirits nominees — including nominations for Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”), Octavia Spencer (“Luce”), Taylor Russell (“Waves”) and Jonathan Majors (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) — were notably more diverse. All of the nominees for best supporting performance by a female actor were women of color. 

While the Academy Awards have been criticized for again nominating an all-male field of directing nominees, Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) and Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”) were both among the Spirits’ nominees for best director. Olivia Wilde won best first feature for her high-school comedy “Booksmart.” A recently created grant for mid-career female filmmakers dubbed the Bonnie Award was also given to Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy,” “First Cow”).

In her opening, host Aubrey Plaza alluded to the different perspective of the Spirits. 

“The Independent Spirit Awards are always cooler than the Oscars,” said Plaza of the awards put on by Film Independent, a nonprofit group of about 7,000 film enthusiasts. “It’s the daytime, we’re on the beach, we recognize female directors.”

Best documentary went to “American Factory.” Willem Dafoe won best supporting actor for “The Lighthouse,” which also was honored for Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography. 

The spotlight belonged to filmmaking couples at the Spirits. Though Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” was ineligible, her partner, Baumbach, thanked her from the stage. “Though she made a movie too expensive for the Spirit Awards, she’s no less independent than anyone here,” he said. Wang’s win came a year after her boyfriend, Barry Jenkins, won best feature at the Spirit Awards for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” 


BEST FEATURE (Award given to the producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)
The Farewell
Producers: Anita Gou, Daniele Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Lulu
Wang, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
Director: Olivia Wilde
Producers: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison,
Katie Silberman

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Award given to the writer, director and producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)
Give Me Liberty
Writer/Director/Producer: Kirill Mikhanovsky
Writer/Producer: Alice Austen
Producers: Val Abel, Wally Hall, Michael Manasseri, George Rush, Sergey Shtern

Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie
Uncut Gems

Noah Baumbach
Marriage Story

Fredrica Bailey & Stefon Bristol
See You Yesterday

Jarin Blaschke
The Lighthouse

Ronald Bronstein & Benny Safdie
Uncut Gems

Renée Zellweger

Adam Sandler
Uncut Gems

Zhao Shuzhen
The Farewell

Willem Dafoe
The Lighthouse

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast
Marriage Story
Director: Noah Baumbach
Casting Directors: Douglas Aibel, Francine Maisler
Ensemble Cast: Alan Alda, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Julie Hagerty, Scarlett Johansson, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Merritt Wever

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director and producer)
American Factory
Director/Producer: Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert
Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Jeff Reichert

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)
South Korea
Director: Bong Joon-Ho

On January 4, the following winners were honored at the Spirit Awards Nominee Brunch hosted by Jon M. Chu and Alfre Woodard at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood: 

Kelly Reichardt received the third Bonnie Award. Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo joined American Airlines in 1973 at age 24, becoming the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline. In her honor, the Bonnie Award recognizes a mid-career female director with a $50,000 unrestricted grant sponsored by American Airlines. Finalists for the award were Marielle Heller and Lulu Wang. 

Mollye Asher received the Producers Award. The award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films. The annual award, in its 23rd year, includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. Finalists for the award were Krista Parris and Ryan Zacarias.

Rashaad Ernesto Green, director of "Premature," received the Someone to Watch Award. The award recognizes talented filmmakers of singular vision who have not yet received appropriate recognition. The award is in its 26th year and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant presented by Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, a brand committed to celebrating those pushing the boundaries of their craft. Finalists for the award were Ash Mayfair, director of "The Third Wife" and Joe Talbot, director of "The Last Black Man in San Francisco."

Nadia Shihab, director of "Jaddoland," received the Truer Than Fiction Award. The award is presented to an emerging director of nonfiction features who has not yet received significant recognition. The award is in its 25th year and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. Finalists for the award were Khalik Allah, director of "Black Mother," Davy Rothbart, director of "17 Blocks" and Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, directors of "América."


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