Independent Spirit Awards: Beale Street wins big ahead of Oscars

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Regina King and Barry JenkinsImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Regina King and Barry Jenkins both won for If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk was the big winner at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards, winning three major prizes.

It took home best feature - the top award at the ceremony - plus best director for Barry Jenkins and best supporting actress for Regina King.

The Spirits honour low-budget films and are the final major awards season ceremony ahead of the Oscars on Sunday.

Beale Street is Jenkins' first film since Moonlight, which won the best picture Oscar in 2017.

Speaking to BBC News, the director said he was pleased about the steps forward the Academy has made, or tried to make, in recent years.

The body behind the Oscars has diversified its membership, tried to introduce a popular film category and attempted to make the ceremony shorter and more entertaining.

"All this stuff with the popular film, I think all this stuff the Academy is undergoing is a period of extreme evolution, started by [former Academy president] Cheryl Boone Isaacs, there's some growing pains with that," Jenkins said.

"But I think this progress that began 5-10 years ago, if you really dig into it, is ongoing, and I think 5-10 years from now we'll look back and realise the Academy reshaped itself in some really amazing ways."

Image source, Getty Images
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Jenkins posed with Alfonso Cuaron, whose film Roma won best international feature

Awards season reaches its climax on Sunday night, with the Oscars taking place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Beale Street may not be nominated for best picture there, but its wins at the Spirits give Regina King some extra momentum as the frontrunner to win best supporting actress.

Jenkins said Moonlight winning the top prize at the Oscars two years ago was invaluable in helping his follow-up get made.

"Winning best picture was crazy, but it afforded me a lot of opportunities," he said.

"So getting it funded was quite simple ultimately, but I think adapting such an interior text, that was the challenge."

Jenkins has spoken before about the difficulties of translating non-linear format of the book, where the reader benefits from hearing the interior voices of the characters, to the big screen.

Speaking about the writer of the novel, Jenkins said: "I love James Baldwin, and I've always wanted to adapt my favourite author.

"Black authors haven't been adapted at the same rate as their white peers. Megan Ellison [founder of Annapurna Pictures] said she wanted to support this black literary adaptation, and I was all about it."

Richard E Grant was among the British winners at the Independent Spirits, taking home best supporting actor - a win he said he was "utterly overwhelmed" by.

Image source, Reuters
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Glenn Close, a winner at the ceremony herself, presented Richard E Grant with his award

It's unlikely he will win in the same category at the Oscars, however, as there has been a clear favourite through the rest of awards season.

"It has been carved in stone for the last month that a wonderful brilliant actor called Mahershala Ali has got the award already," he told BBC News of the Green Book star.

"So the other four nominees, we're just enjoying the ride of it."

He added that the number of work offers he receives has drastically increased since his Oscar nomination.

"I have new representation in Los Angeles, and I've been sent a lot of scripts which I've never had in this quantity before in my career. But I'm sure it'll all pumpkin ride before Monday," he laughed.

Glenn Close continued her sweep of awards season at the Spirits, taking home another trophy for best actress for her role in The Wife.

She is almost certain to win the same award at the Oscars - ending her record as the actress with the most nominees without a win.

But she played down the competitive element, telling BBC News: "It's very hard for me to accept a win-lose situation.

"I don't think there are any losers. So to say 'I hope I win', it doesn't sit well with me, because look who's in my category and look at the incredible work that's being done.

"I think it's a huge honour at this point in my career to be in that room with some of the most creative people on the planet."

Image source, EPA
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Tilda Swinton's 2017 film Okja was also released primarily on Netflix

Of course, the front runner for best picture at the Oscars this year remains Roma - which won best international film at the Spirits.

Despite having a limited theatrical release, its main platform was Netflix.

It's a sign that traditional film bodies are starting to show less hostility and resistance towards movies made or released by streaming services.

"I hope that Netflix are going to build some nice big cinemas in every single city around the world," actress Tilda Swinton told BBC News.

"That's what I want them to do... and then they'll prove that they're really dedicated to big screen entertainment."

The actress is someone who knows about potential snobbery towards streaming - her Netflix movie Okja proved controversial when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Swinton said the company have indicated to her they would consider making further inroads into movie theatres, adding that "they've got the money" to build their own cinemas.

"I have talked to them about it, and they've made some very encouraging noises so, let's hope they do it," she said.

Independent Spirit Awards: The big winners

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Amanda Seyfried accepted the best actor prize on behalf of co-star Ethan Hawke

Best feature - If Beale Street Could Talk

Best female lead - Glenn Close, The Wife

Best male lead - Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Best supporting female - Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best supporting male - Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best director - Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best first feature - Sorry to Bother You

Best screenplay - Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best first screenplay - Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade

Robert Altman Award - Suspiria

Best documentary - Won't You Be My Neighbour?

Best international film - Roma