Both Asian American and Asian films made their mark at the 35th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards ceremony, which was held Feb. 8 under a giant tent near Santa Monica Pier.
The awards, hosted by Aubrey Plaza, honored the best in independent cinema.
Best Feature went to “The Farewell,” Lulu Wang’s comedy-drama about a Chinese American family that goes to China to visit their mother/grandmother, who is unaware that she is terminally ill.
Accepting the award were producers Wang, Anita Gou, Daniele Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, and Jane Zheng. Executive producers are not awarded.
Also nominated were “A Hidden Life,” “Clemency,” “Marriage Story,” and “Uncut Gems.”
Wang, who attended the ceremony for the first time in 2014, recalled, “I had made a first feature that didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t know if I was ever going to make films again. I was so inspired by everybody on stage … Now I’m up here, so for all of the filmmakers out there, you can do it. You can absolutely do it.
“There’s been a lot of conversation this year about how to encourage more women to be in film … I just have to say that you don’t have to encourage women. There are lots of women making films and who want to make films and who are in film school … Really, what women need is just the job. Just give them the freakin’ job. (applause)
“Give them the money. Because in America unfortunately we’re not going to have a lifelong career making arthouse films supported by government funding. That’s just not the country we live in. So just give the women the jobs. Don’t make them run through that many hoops.
“And the only reason that I’m up here is that these incredible people (on the stage) gave me an opportunity. My first film went nowhere. They didn’t have to take a chance on me, and they did.”
Wang thanked the production company, A24, for marketing “The Farewell” as “an American film, to show a different side of what an American looks like, what an American family can look like, what an American leading woman looks like.”
Wang was nominated for the Bonnie Award, which goes to a mid-career female director with a $50,000 unrestricted grant, sponsored by American Airlines. The award went to Kelly Reichardt. Marielle Heller was also nominated.
Best Supporting Female went to Zhao Shuzhen, who played the grandmother, Nai Nai, in “The Farewell.” Also nominated were Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers,” Taylor Russell for “Waves,” Lauren “Lolo” Spencer for “Give Me Liberty,” and Octavia Spencer for “Luce.”
Zhao could not attend due to China’s travel restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and Wang accepted on her behalf.
The two wins were particularly sweet for the cast and crew of “The Farewell,” which was shut out of the Oscars.
Zhao has won or been nominated for a number of awards for her performance.
Awkwafina, the star of “The Farewell,” was not nominated for an Independent Spirit Award but won a Golden Globe for best lead actress in a comedy or musical movie.
Best International Film went to Bong Joon Ho for “Parasite” (South Korea), which went on to win four Oscars the following day, including the first Best Picture award for a foreign-language film.
Also nominated were “Invisible Life” (Brazil), “Les Miserables” (France), “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (France), “Retablo” (Peru), and “The Souvenir” (U.K.).
Speaking with the help of interpreter Sharon Choi, Bong said that attending the ceremony 10 years ago, when he was nominated for “Mother,” was a memorable experience even though he did not win.
The evening’s other winners included:
Best Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, “Uncut Gems”
Best Female Lead: Renee Zellweger, “Judy”
Best Male Lead: Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
Best Supporting Male: Willem Dafoe, “The Lighthouse”
Best Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”
Best Editing: Robert Bronstein, Benny Safdie, “Uncut Gems”
Best Documentary Feature: “American Factory”
Best Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke, “The Lighthouse”
Best First Feature: “Booksmart” (Olivia Wilde, director)
Best First Screenplay: Fredrica Bailey, Stefon Bristol, “See You Yesterday”
John Cassavetes Award: “Give Me Liberty”
Robert Altman Award: “Marriage Story”
Producers Award: Mollye Asher
Someone to Watch Award: Rashaad Ernesto Green, “Premature”
Truer Than Fiction Award: Nadia Shihab, “Jaddoland”