Do the Spirit Awards matter? They’re supposed to bring needed attention to American independent film – and they do. But the devil is in the details. The Artist just swept France’s top film awards, the Césars. But if the film wins the top prize today at the Independent Spirit Awards, then it will be America’s top indie. The Artist made the cut as an “American film” this year as outlined by the Spirit Awards’ general guidelines. But shouldn’t there be more stringent qualifications to ensure the focus is on American film if the Spirits’ mandate is to champion American independent cinema and not just make the cut on a technicality? If the momentum-meter is any indication, The Artist could win best feature today and likely take the Oscar after winning best film at the British BAFTAs. So it wouldn’t be a year that the Spirits distinguished itself as a voice for American independent film at least in the Best Feature category. This isn’t meant to be a hazing of The Artist. (Though I can’t understand how Weekend by Andrew Haigh failed to make the cut when The Artist did.) Perhaps the Spirits – including its selection committee and its voters – should leave the big tent to the Oscars and nurture its American indie/specialty niche. Perhaps it’s time for Film Independent and its 6,900 qualifying voters to consider some rule changes.

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