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How are the Indie Spirit Awards different from the Oscars?

Issa Rae (creator/star of
Issa Rae (creator/star of "Insecure") and Fred Armisen (co-creator/co-star of "Portlandia") at the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards at the Santa Monica Pier.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for Film Independent

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On Saturday afternoon, some 1,500 people will gather under a tent in the parking lot next to the Santa Monica Pier, have a few drinks and celebrate independent film. But that's not all that's going on.

The event is the 33rd annual Independent Spirit Awards, put on every year the day before the Oscars. The organization behind the event is Film Independent. The non-profit's mission is to up the profile of indie film, educate and mentor the next generation of filmmakers, and to diversify the ranks of people working in the entertainment business.

Film Independent president Josh Welsh tells The Frame that the goal of inclusion can be seen among the nominees at the Spirit Awards, "This year I think 30 percent of our nominees are women and about 29 percent are filmmakers of color."

Still, every year there is some crossover between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars. "Moonlight," "The Artist," "Birdman," "12 Years a Slave" and "Spotlight" all took home top honors at both awards shows.

But Welsh says that the criteria for the Spirit Awards is different from the Academy Awards.

To quality, a film needs to have come out theatrically in the last calendar year or played one of a very small handful of festivals. The budget needs to be under $20 million and we're looking for films that have an original, provocative subject matter, a unique point of view and really an author's voice– as opposed to films that feel perhaps more made by committee or what you get from bigger budget fare.

That type of criteria allows smaller films a shot at a trophy. For instance, this year, alongside "Get Out" and "Lady Bird" vying for best feature, there are much smaller films including "The Florida Project" and "The Rider."  

Also at the Spirit Awards will be a large group of Film Independent volunteers. The day after The Frame's John Horn talked with Josh Welsh, the organization was named in a class action lawsuit about how it allegedly treats those volunteers. You can read the entire complaint in the below document.

Reached for comment, Josh Welsh made this written statement available to KPCC:

"Film Independent has not yet been served with papers in this matter so I can’t comment in detail. What I can say, emphatically, is that Film Independent is now and has always been committed to treating its employees, members, and volunteers with gratitude and respect, and we adhere to all applicable labor laws regarding hiring and utilizing volunteer services.  Over the years we've been fortunate to work with thousands of volunteers and we are deeply appreciative of their contributions to our programs and mission.  I myself began as a volunteer at the organization, as have several other staff members. Many of our volunteers come back year after year, and to my knowledge not one has ever filed a complaint like this one."

Correction: An earlier version of the caption for the photo on this story misidentified actress Issa Rae. KPCC regrets the error.

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