30th Gotham Awards Build Steam for ‘Nomadland,’ Riz Ahmed + Nicole Beharie

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Photo Source: “Sound of Metal”: Courtesy Amazon Studios

Celebrating 30 years of honoring independent filmmakers, the Jan. 11 Gotham Independent Film Awards continued their tradition of boosting awards season hopefuls—presented by the New York City non-profit formerly known as Independent Filmmaker Project, now rebranded The Gotham Film & Media Institute. Following the new normal established by the 2020 Emmys, BAFTA TV Awards, and more, the 2021 Gotham ceremony virtually connected remote nominees and presenters at Cipriani Wall Street.

For the first time in the Gotham Awards’ history, all five nominees for the best picture prize were directed by female filmmakers. Writer-director-editor-producer Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” (from Searchlight Pictures) took home the award, solidifying its status as a contender after wins at both the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. Starring Frances McDormand as a van-dwelling nomad, the film triumphed in the category against “First Cow” (A24), “The Assistant” (Bleecker Street), “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features), and “Relic” (IFC Midnight), and also took home the Gotham Audience Award voted upon by Institute members.

Gotham’s international feature award also went to a female filmmaker: director and co-writer Fernanda Valadez for her Mexican drama “Identifying Features” (“Sin señas particulares”). The screenplay award was split in a tie between two winners: writer-director-star Radha Blank for her debut feature “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix) and writer-director Dan Sallitt for “Fourteen” (Grasshopper Film). The Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award, meanwhile, went to Andrew Patterson for his directorial debut “The Vast of Night” (Amazon Studios). Winning Gotham’s two prizes for television, breakthrough series in long and short form, were HBO’s Emmy-winning “Watchmen” and “I May Destroy You.” 

The ceremony’s acting winners, among the first performers to be crowned this awards season, were Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios), Nicole Beharie for “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment), and, for breakthrough actor, Kingsley Ben-Adir for “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios). In his acceptance speech, Ahmed spoke about the current state of the entertainment industry, quoting the late Indian actor Irrfan Khan: “ ‘Surrender to the dance of uncertainty.’ It feels like a wobbly time. If we can wobble together, we may find each other dancing.”

With a film and guilds awards season stretched out between now and the April 25 Academy Awards, the Gothams’ early recognition of these indie artists should improve the odds of breaking into their respective races. The 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards, also encompassing the independent film community, are next in line to anoint contenders; their nominations will be announced Jan. 26. 

Accepting Gotham’s special honors throughout the ceremony presentation were Viola Davis (Actress Tribute), Steve McQueen (Director Tribute), Ryan Murphy (Industry Tribute), and the cast of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (the inaugural Ensemble Tribute). The late Chadwick Boseman’s Actor Tribute was accepted by his wife, Simone Ledward Boseman. “He was blessed to live many lives within his concentrated one,” she said in her speech. “He developed his understanding of what it meant to be the one, the none and the all. ‘A vessel to be poured into and out of,’ he’d said.”

For a full list of 2021 Gotham Award nominees and winners, visit their official site. Stay tuned for the latest updates on this awards season with Backstage’s coverage.

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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