27 February, 2012
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
There is indeed much to celebrate in France with the multiple Oscar wins by THE ARTIST, which has made film history as the first silent film to win Best Picture in 80 years and the first wins by a French director and actor in their respective categories. The five Oscar wins by THE ARTIST (matched only by Martin Scorsese's exquisite period film HUGO, which dominated the technical prizes), its sweep of the Cesar Awards and all the other awards that the film has won during this seemingly endless awards season are richly deserved and without controversy. However, one such sweep is receiving a good amount of online criticism and rolling of eyes.
THE ARTIST, a film that all the world knows to be French, was the surprise winner at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, an event organized to celebrate and promote American independent cinema. The film was considered eligible in major categories because the director has a green card which allows him to work in the U.S., the production was shot in Los Angeles, much of the cast and crew are from America, and a very small percentage of the financing (really the finishing funds) came from American resources. Winning for Best Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best Cinematography, THE ARTIST crowded out other truly American indie films like THE DESCENDANTS, TAKE SHELTER, 50/50, DRIVE and BEGINNERS (the latter being mostly financed in Canada, but close enough).
Chalk it up to ferocious ambition and consummate skill of awards impresario Harvey Weinstein, the film's American distributor, but THE ARTIST has been virtually unstoppable since its premiere in Cannes more than eight months ago. While not holding back on praise for a film that was certainly a risky project without a guaranteed commercial success, there is griping from some in the American independent industry (myself included) that the film is having its gateau and eating it too......winning Hollywood and France's top prizes, while also having indie cred at the same time. One can only speculate which of the alternate American indie titles up for prizes at the Independent Spirit Awards would have been honored if THE ARTIST was not given the loophole for awards consideration outside of the Best Foreign Film category (which, in my humble opinion, is the only one in which it was legitimately appropriate for).
The Independent Spirit Awards has been the place where films that don't get acknowledged by the Oscars (much less the Cesars) can be showcased and celebrated, something that is needed to help these "smaller" films find an audience (either in theatrical release or in their after-market). This establishes a rather thorny precedent that a film that is mainly financed and produced in another country but simply shot in the United States will be thought to be "American indie" enough to crowd out films made strictly with American resources. In this age of multi-nationalism and globalization, I won’t complain too much, since THE ARTIST is a film that took great risks to get made, but something seems out of kilter when a film that sweeps the Cesar Awards (the French Oscars) as being oh so French, is also celebrated in California for being oh so American indie. Weird, weird…