The Year of the Independent

As this year’s award season nominations and winners continue to roll out, one thing is evident – it’s been a hugely triumphant awards race for the Independents. Even prior to the Academy Award® nominations last week, where independent films dominated with 78% of the 107 total nominations in feature film categories, independent films released in 2016 had already made their mark on audiences, critics, award show analysts and industry voters around the world.

Many of the biggest award contenders were produced, distributed, financed and/or sold by IFTA® Member companies, including Arrival (FilmNation), Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathé), Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate/Summit, IM Global), Hell or High Water (Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Lionsgate), Jackie (Wild Bunch), LA LA Land (Lionsgate/Summit), Lion, and Manchester by the Sea (Sierra/Affinity), to name a few – all independent films made outside the six major Hollywood studios.

This year, LA LA Land has already made history. At the Golden Globes last month it was the first film to win seven trophies, sweeping every category in which it was nominated. And with 14 Oscar nominations, the musical/rom-com joins the ranks of studio pictures Titanic (1998) and All About Eve (1950) as only the third film ever to receive 14 nominations – the most nominations for a single film. With more than 18 wins under its belt to date, it is well on its way to breaking that record.

Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea have given the film a run for its money, however, already taking home 17 and 14 awards respectively, including top honors from the Hollywood Foreign Press at the Golden Globes for Moonlight. The Academy’s “Best Picture” nomination for Manchester by the Sea is also historic as it marks a first-ever Oscar “Best Picture” nomination not only for Amazon but for a streaming service. And Meryl Streep broke her own record for most Oscar acting nominations for a single person with her “Lead Actress” nomination in Florence Foster Jenkins bringing her total to 20. 

While the sheer number of award-worthy independent films this year is vast with 28 different films vying for Oscars® across 21 feature categories, the Independents are no stranger to accolades from Academy voters. Since IFTA’s launch in the early 80’s (then as AFMA), the association has been tracking independent films’ award performance on behalf of its Members and the Independents have been a force to be reckoned with in the award races. Since 1980, independent films have garnered 22 Academy Awards for "Best Picture” compared to 12 for the major studios accounting for 65% of the awards given -- most recently last year’s Spotlight and 12 Years a Slave in 2014. From 2003 – 2012, the independents were unstoppable capturing every “Best Picture” award for 10 years straight, including Chicago (2003), Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004), Million Dollar Baby (2005), Crash (2006), The Departed (2007), No Country for Old Men (2008), Slumdog Millionaire (2009),The Hurt Locker (2010), The King’s Speech (2011) and The Artist (2012).

Several of these films also hold Oscar records. New Line Cinema’s big-budget, epic feature Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the third in the series’ franchise, has the distinction of being one of only three films ever to receive the most awards by a single film with 11 wins – an accomplishment only shared by studio films Titanic (1998) and Ben Hur (1959). Summit and Voltage Pictures’ The Hurt Locker, which took home six Oscars in 2010, earned the first “Best Director” win for a woman with Kathryn Bigelow taking the award for the powerful Iraq War film. 2011 was also a particularly strong year for Independents with The King’s Speech winning six awards, including “Best Picture” beating Sony’s The Social Network, as was 2009 when Slumdog Millionaire took home eight of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for.

While the studios capitalize on big blockbuster special effects, Independents are known for poignant storytelling, interesting characters and taking risks on edgy content that consumers want to see and award voters appreciate. Major studios may come in as distributors of these films many times acquiring the U.S. distribution rights but typically won’t fund this type of fare. That alone is a win for the independents. For their strong support and recognition of independent films, IFTA thanks the film critics, The Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press. But IFTA’s Member companies and Independents around the world deserve the most thanks for their vision and perseverance to get these films financed, made and out to global audiences. That itself is a win worth celebrating!

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