justin simien

Justin Simien, Director and writer of ‘Dear White People’ was nominated for two awards and won for Best First Screenplay

*30 years ago in a tent on the beach of Santa Monica, the Independent Spirit Awards, the first awards show to honor independent film makers was born.

Conceived by Jeanne Lucas and IFP/West (now Film Independent) and first called FINDIE or Friends of Independents Awards, the show was held the day before the Academy Awards Show and offered an award of a trophy depicting a bird sitting atop of a pole with the shoestrings from the previous design wrapped around the pole that extended from a square pyramid.

Since the show’s inception in 1985, industry changes in technology and legislation have changed the way that independent films are made and distributed. Since 1994, the show has been broadcast on the Bravo network and Independent Film Channel.

“The changes are profound and obvious,” said current president Josh Welsh, “It’s easier to share your work and to have it stolen.”  Welsh went on to describe how minorities are underrepresented in the industry.  “To me, there’s no doubt that today, independent, artist-driven film making is a vital part of our film culture so that we have lots to celebrate today.”

To be eligible for a Spirit Award a film must be made with a budget of no more than $500,000 dollars.  Among the notable nominations is Best Feature, “Selma,” Best Male Lead, David Oyelowo for “Selma,” Best first screenplay and Best First Feature, Justin Simien for “Dear White People,” Best Supporting Actress, Carmen Ejogo for “Selma,” Best Cinematography, Bradford Young for “Selma.”

This year’s Honorary Chair, Kerry Washington, whose very first feature, ‘Our Song,’ was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature – Under $500,000 in 2001.  The Honorary Chair position is given to someone “who exemplifies outstanding artistic achievement and embodies Film Independent’s mission to nurture and support creative independence in visual storytelling.”

The Film ‘Dear White People,’ that won for Best First Screenplay is a surprising look into the lives of four African Americans Ivy League college students that reveals allot about racism and the culture of America.  “I think my movie, Selma, and other movies like this tries to push new ideas and ways of seeing each other as a culture helps,” said Justin Simien, Director and writer of ‘Dear White People.’  Best male Lead, Andre’ Benjamin for ‘Jimmi: All is by my Side.’

Simien quit his job as a PR agent and spent more than a year making ‘Dear White People.’

“2005 was the first draft of ‘Dear whiter People,” said Simien.  “It was called ‘2% Grad.’  I went home and spent at least two hours every night, stayed indoors on the weekend until it was all done.  I made a concept trailer with my tax return, because that is all that I could afford to do.  That went viral, and CNN was calling me and that’s essentially how it happened.”

“We have to know where we have been, so we can move forward,” said presenter Oprah Winfery as she announced the movie Selma.  “The struggle for equality is not easy, it never was.  This is their story; this is our story, Selma.”

Although they honored the movie ‘Selma’ with a speech by Winfery, a video presentation about the film, and allowed the two nominated actors, David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. and Carmen Ejogo who played Coretta Scott King, to present an award, neither the actors nor the movies itself won any awards, continuing the tradition of overlooking high quality African-American movies and performers.

This year’s Independent Spirit Awards aired Saturday, February 21 at 2PM PT / 5PM ET, live on IFC.

For more information on the Independent Spirit Awards, go to http://www.spiritawards.com/.