What are the Spirit Awards? Awards given to ghosts? Yes and no. In 2007, more than 500 films were released theatrically. Most of them were independent features and most of them were seriously overlooked, barely lasting a week- if even a day- in theaters. When it comes to box office receipts, they usually ended up dying a quick yet still painful death. These indie films in many respects could be considered ghosts.
How ironic that the movie with the most Spirit Award nominations this year is a film called I'm Not There! It's a quasi-biographical look at not a man per se but instead his spirit, his soul. The man is not present in the movie, but his essence certainly hangs over it. That man, for your information, is Bob Dylan.
Actually, all the Spirit Award nominees are seemingly not there, but yet, they are. Their essences certainly hang over the cinema world, invisible to the mainstream mostly, but they are there, begging sometimes for attention. And, why? Again, mostly because they don't operate in the same, high tax brackets.
In order to be nominated for a Spirit Award, a film's budget must be $20 million or less, which is typically the salary of most A-list actors like Denzel Washington or Julia Roberts. Second, the majority of that budget has to be financed through independent means, or means that aren't derived from the big conglomerates, i.e. Disney or Warner Bros. Lastly, the film itself has to represent a unique and provocative aspect, an overriding creative one that challenges and inspires, something controversial, which most big budget movies try to avoid.
While the popular choice this time around is a comedy named Juno, which after two months, has grossed over $100 million, a rarity for indie films that mostly struggle to bring a return on investment. Yes, the movie is funny, charming, and somewhat of a crowd pleaser.
However, if you're going to honor a movie with a Spirit Award, the movie should have at least a spirit. Juno has heart. It certainly has heart, but that all-powerful spirit, at the end of the day, is absent. It leaves you with nothing substantial, no real message. Juno is more or less a trifle.
No. The real indie film that should win the Spirit Award is Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The absolutely moving story focuses on the real life incidents of a French man who suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body, except for his left eye. The French man could only blink his left eye and could move no other body part.
What's absolutely incredible is that this man named Jean-Dominique Bauby was able to write the memoir from which this movie is based by only blinking his left eye. He couldn't speak. He couldn't write it himself. With the help of a female assistant who would point out letters to him, he blinked an entire 140-page book.
If you can imagine the dedication or the strength of spirit required to do something like that, you'd understand why this is a definite Spirit Award winner. Besides, within the film, the paralyzed man uses his mind to relive or re-envision fantastic memories or adventures traveled by his own spirit. The images are beautiful and glorious.
The French man eventually dies, but director Julian Schnabel captures perfectly the spirit of this man in this very artistic piece, and if you make the effort to go see it, that man's spirit, his ghost will haunt you forever. But, in this case, it's the kind of ghost you want to be haunted by.
Other Spirit Award nominees of special note (ones you'd want haunting you):
For more information, go to: http://filmindependent.org/spiritawards/interactive_nominee_guide.php