Spirit Awards ceremony disrupted by protestors as 'Past Lives' takes top prize

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In what could be a sign for awards shows to come, the Spirit Awards were severely disrupted on Sunday afternoon by pro-Palestinian protesters.

About 40 minutes into the daytime ceremony, which was held in a tent near the beach in Santa Monica, loud sounds could be heard by attending guests. A small group of protesters had assembled on a public sidewalk across from the tent, holding up a loudspeaker that played a pre-recorded looped chant of “Free, free Palestine,” “Long live Palestine” and “Ceasefire now” that could be heard throughout the rest of the show.

Nevertheless, the ceremony continued and awards were handed out, with writer-director Celine Song’s “Past Lives” winning for feature and director.

“Past Lives” is also nominated for best picture and screenplay at the Academy Awards. In an interview with The Times before the Spirit Awards ceremony got underway, Song said, “At the heart of it, ‘Past Lives’ is an independent film. It was made independently, and then we also premiered at Sundance, which is really the heart of independent cinema. So to me, this is like being home. Walking in here, I already felt like this is where the movie belongs.”

As often happens, Spirit Awards voters went for films also nominated for Academy Awards; Along with “Past Lives,” Oscar-nominated films such as “American Fiction,” “The Holdovers,” May December,” “Four Daughters” and “Anatomy of a Fall” all took home Spirit Awards.

“American Fiction” won for screenplay for Cord Jefferson, who also directed the film, as well as lead performance for Jeffrey Wright. This was the second year the Spirit Awards gave out non-gendered acting awards with 10 nominees, including men and women, for each prize each in lead and supporting categories

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, of Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” won for supporting performance, as did her co-star, Dominic Sessa, for breakthrough performance. Eigil Bryld’s cinematography won as well.

But as the awards show continued despite chanting that could be heard through acceptance speeches, the disparaty became a dominating factor. The protestors were located outside on a sidewalk adjoining the beach, on the far side of the tent from where the stage was set up. Event organizers moved a shuttle bus backward and forward in front of the protesters to attempt to block the sound of their loudspeaker. Depending on where one was located inside the tent, they were either loud or unclear. The ceremony was being livestreamed on YouTube, where it was reported that muffled, indistinct noise could be heard on the broadcast.

The protest was noted a few times from the stage, often with a note of confusion as to what was going on. Host Aidy Bryant was beginning a comedy segment not long after the protest erupted and noted, “We are at the beach and people are practicing their freedom of speech.”

Comedian Jimmy O. Yang, while presenting another award, referred to the “heckler” outside and joked that people in the independent film community are “used to getting yelled at.”

Winning the John Cassavetes award for a film made for under $1 million, “Fremont” filmmaker Babak Jalali said, “There are people speaking outside and whatever they’re saying, I think it’s far more important than what I’m about to say.” His words were met with applause.

Prior to the ceremony, Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent, which puts on the Spirit Awards, said that the switch last year from a broadcast partner to livestreaming on YouTube had actually doubled the audience for the show and made it available internationally.

“This is where the community comes together,” Welsh said. “And people I think need that now and really value it.”

Accepting the Robert Altman Award for the ensemble of “Showing Up,” filmmaker Kelly Reichardt summed up the afternoon by recalling seeing filmmaker Robert Altman receive a lifetime achievement award in 2003 as war was erupting in Iraq. “And he was pissed.” Reichardt added, gesturing to the disruption outside, “I think he’d have a lot to say, just this weirdness of us being here and celebrating each other and our work, and also, you know: Life goes on outside the tent. Peace.”

Here is a complete list of today’s Spirit Award winners.


Best feature
“Past Lives”
Producers: David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon

Celine Song, “Past Lives”

Cord Jefferson, “American Fiction”

First feature
“A Thousand and One”
Director: A.V. Rockwell
Producers: Julia Lebedev, Rishi Rajani, Eddie Vaisman, Lena Waithe, Brad Weston

First screenplay
Samy Burch, “May December”

John Cassavetes Award
(for a feature made under $1,000,000)
Writer-director: Babak Jalal
Producers: Rachael Fung, Chris Martin, Marjaneh Moghimi, George Rush, Sudnya Shroff, Laura Wagner

Breakthrough performance
Dominic Sessa, “The Holdovers”

Supporting performance
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Lead performance
Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction

Robert Altman Award
(for an ensemble cast, director and casting director)
“Showing Up”
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Casting Director: Gayle Keller
Ensemble Cast: André Benjamin, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch, Heather Lawless, James Le Gros, John Magaro, Matt Malloy, Amanda Plummer, Maryann Plunkett, Denzel Rodriguez, Michelle Williams

Eigil Bryld, “The Holdovers”

Daniel Garber, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline”

International film
“Anatomy of a Fall” (NEON)
Director: Justine Triet

“Four Daughters”
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Producer: Nadim Cheikhrouha

Someone to Watch
Monica Sorelle, “Mountains”

Truer Than Fiction
Set Hernandez, “unseen”

Producers Award
Monique Walton


New scripted series
Creator/Executive Producer: Lee Sung Jin
Executive Producers: Steven Yeun, Ali Wong, Jake Schreier, Ravi Nandan, Alli Reich
Co-Executive Producers: Alice Ju, Carrie Kemper

New non-scripted or documentary series
“Dear Mama”
Executive Producers: Lasse Järvi, Quincy ‘QD3’ Jones III, Staci Robinson, Nelson George, Charles D. King, Peter Nelson, Adel ‘Future’ Nur, Jamal Joseph, Ted Skillman, Allen Hughes, Steve Berman, Marc Cimino, Jody Gerson, John Janick, Nicholas Ferrall, Nigel Sinclair

Supporting performance in a new scripted series
Nick Offerman, “The Last of Us”

Lead performance in a new scripted series
Ali Wong, “Beef”

Breakthrough performance in a new scripted series
Keivonn Montreal Woodard, “The Last of Us”

Ensemble cast in a new scripted series
“Jury Duty”
Ensemble Cast: Alan Barinholtz, Susan Berger, Cassandra Blair, David Brown, Kirk Fox, Ross Kimball, Pramode Kumar, Trisha LaFache, Mekki Leeper, James Marsden, Edy Modica, Kerry O’Neill, Rashida Olayiwola, Whitney Rice, Maria Russell, Ishmel Sahid, Ben Seaward, Ron Song, Evan Williams

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