Spirit Awards Fri 10.2.2020

Wanna Be Nominated for a Spirit Award Too? Submissions are Open.

It’s a bit hard to wrap your mind around, but the 35th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards were this calendar year. Just imagine: hundreds of filmmakers, special guests and awards show staff all crammed together, occupying the physical space, with nary an Uncut Gems or Booksmart-themed face covering in sight. Suffice to say a lot has changed in the world (and even Hollywood) in the eight intervening months—changes that will necessarily require commensurate adjustments to just how and when the 2021 Spirit Awards will happen.

We already know that the 2021 Spirit Awards will take place Saturday, April 24, 2021. And rest assured, we’re figuring out the rest of the details and will have more to share soon. But at least one part of the 2021 Spirit Awards is up on rails and ready to move fast—the nominations process. That’s right: submissions for the 2021 Spirit Awards are now open—and for the first time ever, TV series are eligible! Curious how it all works? Visit our FAQ page for rules, eligibility requirements and more. Regular deadline is Tuesday, October 27.

So! While you’re scrambling to excavate the most up-to-date export cut of your movie from whatever godforsaken hard drive it’s hiding on, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at just a handful of our favorite Spirit Award shows of yesteryear. These and many other complete full show archives can be found on our YouTube channel.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll be up there one day too…



Everyone has to start somewhere. And for the Independent Spirit Awards, that place was the banquet hall of the (long gone) 385 Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Taking place March 22, 1986 and celebrating the best independent films of 1985, the low-key luncheon was co-hosted by IFP’s Jeanne Lucas, actor Peter Coyote and—according to the footage—several large potted ferns. The big winners? After Hours, Blood Simple and The Trip to Bountiful. Not a bad way to start!


PEAK 1990s

The final decade of the 20th century will forever be remembered as the era when indie movies finally exploded into the mainstream, pulling in hugely profitable box office numbers and nabbing Oscars hardware left-and-right (despite the fact that there was already a successful awards show whose purview this was.) And there’s no better time capsule of this go-go indie era than the 10th annual Spirit Awards—now taking place at its regular home on the beach in Santa Monica. Hosted by the great Kevin Pollak, winners included Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, Linda Fiorentino, David O. Russell and Dianne Wiest, among others.



To celebrate the Spirit Awards’ first quarter-century, the show tried to do something a little different—relocating from its now-regular home inside the tent on the Santa Monica beach to try out the (at the time) brand-new LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles. But despite the change in scenery, the usual Spirit Awards irreverence remained—including a raucous performance from heavy metal concern Anvil, subjects of Best Documentary winner Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Also: the late, great Lynn Shelton taking home the John Cassavetes Award for 2009’s wonderful comedy-drama Humpday.



The Spirit Awards have been lucky to tally a number of incredible hosts over the years: Nick Kroll & John Mulaney, Aubrey Plaza, Buck Henry, Queen Latifah, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman, Samuel L. Jackson, Kumail Nanjiani & Kate McKinnon—the list goes on. But none looms quite so large as John Waters. The iconic indie film auteur hosted the show four consecutive years, from 2000-2003. They’re all great, but we’re partial to 2001, the year of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Also: Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Best First Screenplay win for Love and Basketball, and a Willem Dafoe acting win for Shadow of the Vampire.



We’re wrapping up with this one solely for the sake of physical comedy. You may recall, from earlier this year, the Safdie brothers’ hilarious and borderline-unhinged acceptance speech for Best Director(s) at 35th Film Independent Spirit Awards. Accepting for Uncut Gems, Josh Safdie recalled: “The last time I was on this stage, I slipped, like, twice”—referring to the filmmaker’s series of Keatonesque pratfalls en route to accept the John Cassavetes Award in 2010 for the brothers’ 2009 drama Daddy Longlegs, the result of a rain-slickened stage.


For a more in-depth chronicle of the history of the Film Independent Spirit Awards, click here. To learn more about the Spirit Awards—including how to submit your film—go to our website.

All Film Independent Members save nearly 15% on Spirit Awards submission fees. Only Filmmaker Pro and Arts Circle Members receive extended early deadline rates on all applications. Not a Member? Join now.

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(Header: Justin Simien accepting for Best First Screenplay in 2015)