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Film Independent Spirit Awards: 'Nomadland' Wins Best Feature, Best Director for Chloe Zhao

Everett (3)
Other film winners included Carey Mulligan, Riz Ahmed, Yuh-Jung Youn, Paul Raci and Emerald Fennell, while honorees in the inaugural TV categories included Michaela Coel's 'I May Destroy You.'

Nomadland was the big winner at Thursday's Film Independent Spirit Awards, taking best feature and best director for Chloé Zhao, among other awards. In the acceptance speech, producer Peter Spears noted that Zhao met star Frances McDormand at a previous Spirit Award ceremony. "It began an incredible journey," he said of the annual awards show.

The Spirit Awards have long been the quirky, self-referential foil to the Oscars. Where the Academy Awards had the palatial Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the Spirit Awards had a tent in a beachside Santa Monica parking lot.

"This year we aren't in a big tent on the beach but are in a place familiar to people in independent film: A completely empty theater," joked host Melissa Villaseñor in her opening monologue. (The show typically takes place the day before the Oscars in a daytime ceremony, but in a break from tradition, organizers decided last month that the show would air in a primetime ceremony three days before the Academy Awards, a move sparked by the pandemic.)

Also during her monologue, Villaseñor made what was perhaps a reference to abuse allegations leveled against Scott Rudin in The Hollywood Reporter's cover story about the decorated independent film producer. Referring to nominee The Assistant, the host quipped that the film is about a "woman who works for an abusive Hollywood mogul. Where do they come up with this?"

The virtual awards show was made up of pre-taped skits from Villasenor (her impressions ranged from Owen Wilson to Billie Eilish) and awards presentations done by talent that included Laura Dern and Leslie Odom Jr., among others. Even a majority of the acceptance speeches were pre-taped, with best first screenplay winner Andy Siara (Palm Springs) noting in the virtual pressroom that he had recorded his speech some two months ago. "I am doing my speech from my cold garage, which may not be as glamorous but is nonetheless exciting," said Promising Young Woman filmmaker Emerald Fennell, accepting the award for best screenplay.

Zhao took the best-directing honor for Nomadland, during a year when an unprecedented four out of the five nominees in the best director category were women. (Lulu Wang presented the award with her and Barry Jenkins’ dog Chauncy Wang-Jenkins.) In the history of the Spirit Awards, only two other women have won in the category — Martha Coolidge in 1991 for Rambling Rose and Sofia Coppola in 2003 for Lost in Translation.

"Thank you to the independent film community, we wouldn’t be here without out," said Zhao, who was also previously nominated in the category in 2018 for The Rider.

Regina King's One Night in Miami was honored with the Robert Altman Award, which is given to one film's director, casting director, and the ensemble cast. Past winners include Marriage Story, Spotlight, and Moonlight.  The film depicts a fictional night where Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gather to discuss their roles in the Civil Rights Movement and cultural upheaval of the 1960s. (The film that receives the Altman Award does not have its actors considered for the acting categories.)

Don Cheadle presented the award to King and her cast. "I feel like this is a love letter to Black men. It's so honest," King said in her acceptance speech. "It's an actor's piece and I am an actor." Added Leslie Odom Jr. of the film's writer, Kemp Powers: "We recognized what Kemp wanted to do was to have a private conversation publicly about Black life and our humanity these are conversations I witnessed first when I was a little boy. I grew up to have them myself. In anticipation of this movie being released, in the year that it was, we're looking at what is our responsibility to our people, to this moment, to this country. ... It's about the celebrity and what are we going to do with that."

For the first time, the Spirit Awards included several TV categories, with Michaela Coel's critically acclaimed I May Destroy You taking the very first best new scripted series award. "The Independent Spirit Awards now cover TV and still cover film! I could dance right now, but I won't," explained Villasenor, doing a spot-on impersonation of Kristen Wiig.

I May Destroy You's Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia and Stephen Wight were previously selected as the winner of the inaugural award for best ensemble cast in a new scripted series. "I felt nothing but encouragement and support from my wonderful humble cast who brought these characters to life in a way that I never imagined possible," Coel said as she expressed her gratitude to the cast members during her speech.

Spirit Award winners are selected by members of Film Independent. The Spirit Awards are the nonprofit art organization's primary fundraiser for its programs that support the careers of emerging filmmakers and promote diversity and inclusion across the film industry. (The show aired on IFC and AMC+.)

"Independent film is where we learn our craft, where we grow our craft," said Riz Ahmed, who took the best male lead honor for Sound of Metal. For her part, best female lead winner Carey Mulligan dedicated the win for her role in Promising Young Woman to the late actress Helen McCrory, saying, "I want to dedicate this award to a true independent spirit."

The Spirit Awards nominees, each with a budget coming in under $22.5 million, included Oscar frontrunners like Nomadland and Minari. But several movies that were shut out of this year’s Academy Awards, including First Cow, Miss Juneteenth and The Assistant, earned nominations, with Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always heading into the night with seven. Ultimately, it was awards season frontrunners that took the majority of the prizes — Nomadland led the pack with four wins.

Cate Blanchett presented the best feature award to the Nomadland team, offering, "Even though we are not gathered inside that big sweaty tent on the beach, the movies somehow found a way to bring us together."
A full list of 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards winners follows.

BEST FEATURE
(Award given to the producer)

NOMADLAND (WINNER)
Producers: Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao

FIRST COW
Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Producers: Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf

MINARI
Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Producers: Sara Murphy, Adele Romanski

BEST FIRST FEATURE
(Award given to director and producer)

SOUND OF METAL (WINNER)
Director: Darius Marder
Producers: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

I CARRY YOU WITH ME
Director/Producer: Heidi Ewing
Producers: Edher Campos, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Maire

THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION
Director/Producer: Radha Blank
Producers: Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jordan Fudge, Rishi Rajani, Jennifer Semler, Lena Waithe

MISS JUNETEENTH
Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Steele Page, Neil Creque Williams

NINE DAYS
Director: Edson Oda
Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Linder, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner

BEST DIRECTOR

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland (WINNER)

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Kelly Reichardt, First Cow

BEST SCREENPLAY

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman (WINNER)

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Mike Makowsky, Bad Education

Alice Wu, The Half of It

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Andy Siara, Palm Springs (WINNER)

Kitty Green, The Assistant

Noah Hutton, Lapsis

Channing Godfrey Peoples, Juneteenth

James Sweeney, Straight Up

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD
(Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; Award given to the writer, director and producer)

RESIDUE (WINNER)
Writer/Director: Merawi Gerima

THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS
Writer/Director/Producer: Robert Machoian
Producers: Scott Christopherson, Clayne Crawford

LA LEYENDA NEGRA
Writer/Director: Patricia Vidal Delgado
Producers: Alicia Herder, Marcel Perez

LINGUA FRANCA
Writer/Director/Producer: Isabel Sandoval
Producers: Darlene Catly Malimas, Jhett Tolentino, Carlo Velayo

SAINT FRANCES
Director/Producer: Alex Thompson
Writer: Kelly O’Sullivan
Producers: James Choi, Pierce Cravens, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Raphael Nash, Roger Welp

BEST MALE LEAD

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal (WINNER)

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Adarsh Gourav, The White Tiger

Rob Morgan, Bull

Steven Yeun, Minari

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman (WINNER)

Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Julia Garner, The Assistant

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Paul Raci, Sound of Metal (WINNER)

Colman Domingo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Orion Lee, First Cow

Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Benedict Wong, Nine Days

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari (WINNER)

Alexis Chikaeze, Miss Juneteenth

Yeri Han, Minari

Valerie Mahaffey, French Exit

Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

 Joshua James Richards, Nomadland (WINNER)

Jay Keitel, She Dies Tomorrow

Shabier Kirchner, Bull

Michael Latham, The Assistant

Hélène Louvart, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

BEST EDITING

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland (WINNER)

Andy Canny, The Invisible Man

Scott Cummings, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Merawi Gerima, Residue

Enat Sidi, I Carry You With Me

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM
(Award given to the director)

QUO VADIS, AIDA? (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (WINNER)
Director: Jasmila Zbanic

BACURAU (Brazil)
Director: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

THE DISCIPLE (India)
Director: Chaitanya Tamahane

NIGHT OF THE KINGS (Ivory Coast)
Director: Philippe Lacôte

PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME (Hungary)
Director: Lili Horvát

BEST DOCUMENTARY
(Award given to the director and producer)

CRIP CAMP (WINNER)
Directors/Producers: Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham
Producer: Sara Bolder

COLLECTIVE
Director/Producer: Alexander Nanau
Producers: Hanka Kastelicová, Bernard Michaux, Bianca Oana

DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD
Director/Producer: Kirsten Johnson
Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness

THE MOLE AGENT
Director: Maite Alberdi
Producer: Marcela Santibáñez

TIME
Director/Producer: Garrett Bradley
Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD
(Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
Director: Regina King
Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin
Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

PRODUCERS AWARD
(The Producers Award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films)

Gerry Kim (WINNER)

Lucas Joaquin

Kara Durrett

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
(The Someone to Watch Award recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition)

EKWA MSANGI (WINNER)
Director of Farewell Amor

DAVID MIDELL
Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

ANNIE SILVERSTEIN
Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
(The 26th Truer Than Fiction Award is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition)

ELEGANCE BRATTON (WINNER)
Director of Pier Kids

CECILIA ALDARONDO
Director of Landfall

ELIZABETH LO
Director of Stray

BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES
(Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

IMMIGRATION NATION (WINNER)
Executive Producers: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Brandon Hill, Christian Thompson
Co-Executive Producers: Andrey Alistratov, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, Lauren Haber

ATLANTA’S MISSING AND MURDERED: THE LOST CHILDREN
Executive Producers: Jeff Dupre, Joshua Bennett, Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius

CITY SO REAL
Produced by: Zak Piper, Steve James
Executive Producers: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Jolene Pinder

LOVE FRAUD
Executive Producers: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Amy Goodman Kass, Vinnie Malhotra, Jihan Robinson, Michael Bloom, Maria Zuckerman

WE’RE HERE
Creators/Executive Producers: Stephen Warren, Johnnie Ingram
Executive Producers: Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Peter LoGreco
Co-Executive Producers: Erin Haglund, Sabrina Mar

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
(Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

I MAY DESTROY YOU (WINNER)
Creator/Executive Producer: Michaela Coel
Executive Producers: Phil Clarke, Roberto Troni

A TEACHER
Creator/Executive Producer: Hanna Fidell
Executive Producers: Michael Costigan, Kate Mara, Louise Shore, Jason Bateman, Danny Brocklehurst
Co-Executive Producer: Daniel Pipski

LITTLE AMERICA
Executive Producers: Lee Eisenberg, Joshuah Bearman, Joshua Davis, Arthur Spector, Alan Yang, Siân Heder, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon

SMALL AXE
Executive Producers: Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Steve McQueen

UNORTHODOX
Creator/Executive Producer: Anna Winger
Creator: Alexa Karolinski
Executive Producer: Henning Kamm

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

Shira Haas, Unorthodox (WINNER)

Elle Fanning, The Great

Abby McEnany, Work in Progress

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever

Jordan Kristine Seamón, We Are Who We Are

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

Amit Rahav, Unorthodox (WINNER)

Conphidance, Little America

Adam Ali, Little America

Nicco Annan, P-Valley

Harold Torres, ZeroZeroZero

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

I MAY DESTROY YOU
Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia, Stephen Wight
 

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