Spirit Awards History

Download the PDF: 29 Years of Spirit Awards Nominees & Winners

How it all began

Founded in 1984, the awards were originally known as the FINDIE (“Friends of Independents”) Awards. In 1986, the awards were renamed the Independent Spirit Awards. It was also the first time our membership voted on the winners.

Over the past 25 years, Film Independent’s Spirit Awards has grown into a vanguard event. Held as a luncheon on the beach in Santa Monica, the Awards ceremony brings together the entire film community to celebrate the best of independent film.

In 2005, the producing organization of the Spirit Awards changed its name from IFP/Los Angeles to Film Independent. Although our name has changed, the show, the organization, and our mission remain the same.

Who, what, when, where & why

A wealth of talent has emceed the Spirit Awards throughout its history-click here to read the names of pasts hosts and honorary chairs who take part in both the ceremony and events before the big day.

The Spirit Awards, Year After Year

1984

The FINDIE Awards (Friends of Independents) were conceived by Jeanne Lucas and IFP/West (now Film Independent) President Anne Kimmel to thank individuals and organizations for their support of independent filmmakers. The awards are voted on by a nominating committee.

1985

FILMEX is brought on board to help increase the profile of the Awards. The ceremony is held at the trendy 385 North restaurant. Peter Coyote and Jamie Lee Curtis presented the winners with Plexiglas pyramids designed by Carol and containing a suspended shoestring dotted with sprockets inside, representing the shoestring budgets of independent film. The Reel Gold Award is given to Steve Wachtel for allowing IFP/West continual free use of his screening room.

1986

The ceremony is renamed the Independent Spirit Awards and awards are given in the following categories: Best Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cinematographer, and Best Foreign Film. It was also the first time IFP’s national membership voted on the winners. Peter Coyote hosted the event, held again at 385 North.

1987

Buck Henry signs on as Master of Ceremonies for the Spirit Awards-a position he holds for the next eight years. David Puttnam and Lee Grant give keynote speeches. Presenters include Kyle MacLachlan and Teri Garr. Spike Lee is the first director to win in the new category of Best First Feature.

1988

Buck Henry returns to holds the event at an overflowing 385 North. Louis Malle gives the keynote address. Celebrity presenters include Anthony Edwards, Alfre Woodard, and Meg Ryan. Two categories are added: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

1989

Due to an overwhelming demand for tickets, the Spirit Awards moves to the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to accommodate the record number of guests: 350 attendees. Oliver Stone gives the keynote address, urging filmmakers to “stick to your soul and to hell with your egos. It’s inch by motherfucking inch.”

1990

Martin Scorsese delivers the keynote address, stating, “Being independent doesn’t mean making low-budget films without studio backing…it is a way for being innovative out of inspiration as well as necessity.” Presenters include Jodie Foster, Martin Landau, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Ally Sheedy.

1991

The Spirit Awards move to the Beverly Hills Hotel with an attendance of 550 guests. Kevin Costner delivers the keynote speech and Oliver Stone is the event’s Honorary Chair. Edward R. Pressman and Jon Jost are recipients of a new award given in recognition of a bold, creative body of work and established in honor of the late maverick filmmaker John Cassavetes. Bravo produces a cable special on the event, hosted by Charles Champlin.

1992

The Spirit Awards move to a new location, Raleigh Studios, which accommodates a record-high 1,000 attendees. Francis Ford Coppola gives a 43-minute keynote address built around an analogy comparing filmmaking and winemaking. Honorary Co-Chairs are Martin Scorsese and Jodie Foster, who causes a stir with her speech entitled “The Scum-Sucking Vampire Pig Theory of Hollywood”. Martha Coolidge is the first woman to win Best Director for Rambling Rose. A new category is added for Best Score but is only given out for two years.

1993

The Spirit Awards moves to the beach. Buck Henry hosts the awards for the eighth consecutive year. Neil Jordan delivers the keynote address. Danny Glover serves as Honorary Chair.

1994

Robert Townsend takes over as the Master of Ceremonies for the event, which is held at the Hollywood Palladium. Holly Hunter is Honorary Chair and Jim Sheridan delivers the keynote address. Jim Jarmusch is honored with the John Cassavetes Award. Bravo airs a series of Spirit Awards spots aired as counter-programming during the Academy Awards® telecast.

1995

The Spirit Awards ceremony returns to Santa Monica, where it makes its permanent home in a tent on the beach. The IFP/West (now Film Independent) Board scraps the nearly unenforceable financial regulations for determining a film’s eligibility for a Spirit Award nomination and replaces it with four criteria: Original, provocative subject matter; uniqueness of vision; economy of means; and percentage of independent financing. These serve as rough guidelines that the nominating committee-a group of 15 independent film professionals-use to make their decisions. Diana Zahn-Storey begins producing the event. Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel are Honorary Co-Chairs. Kevin Pollack hosts the ceremony.

1996

Jodie Foster, Laurence Fishburne, and John Travolta are Honorary Co-Chairs. Samuel L. Jackson takes over as Master of Ceremonies. Two new categories are added: Best Debut Performance and Best First Screenplay. This is also the first year for the Someone to Watch Award, which bestows a $20,000 cash grant, and the first year the show is broadcast live on IFC.

1997

Samuel L. Jackson returns as Master of Ceremonies. Jodie Foster and Ossie Davis are Honorary Co-Chairs. Mike Leigh gives a keynote address sharing the secrets of filmmaking from A to Z. A special grant is added for documentaries: the Truer Than Fiction Award, which offers $20,000 cash to the winning filmmaker.

1998

Jodie Foster and Samuel L. Jackson are Honorary Co-Chairs. Spike Lee gives the keynote address. John Turturro hosts the show. A new filmmaker grant for producers is added with a cash prize of $20,000.

1999

Queen Latifah is the first woman to host the Spirit Awards. John Waters steals the show with his keynote address. Robert Duvall and Alfre Woodard serve as Honorary Co-Chairs. Actress Ally Sheedy gives a record-breaking 10-minute acceptance speech about the resurrection of an aging actress in Hollywood.

2000

Jennifer Tilly hosts the 15th anniversary show. Buck Henry and Julianne Moore serve as Honorary Co-Chairs. James Schamus delivers what will be the last keynote address. The Spirit Awards introduces a new category: Best First Feature Under $500,000.

2001

John Waters returns to the Spirit Award stage as Master of Ceremonies. Angela Bassett and Benicio Del Toro serve as Honorary Co-Chairs. Best First Feature Under $500,000 is renamed the John Cassavetes Award.

2002

John Waters returns for the third year while Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman are Honorary Co-Chairs.

2003

The United States begins its invasion of Iraq three days before the Spirit Awards. Elvis Costello makes a surprise appearance and performs “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding”. Halle Berry attends as Honorary Chair of the event. Bowling for Columbine wins Best Documentary and Michael Moore makes a speech against George Bush’s declared war. Satirical songs honoring the Best Feature nominees – which have since become one of the show’s trademarks – are performed for the first time.

2004

The Spirit Awards has its first red carpet show, hosted by Carson Kressley and Debra Wilson. Tom Cruise is Honorary Chair of the event. John Waters last year as host. Waters does a bit addressing the MPAA screener ban and Jack Valenti takes him off the stage in handcuffs.

2005

The 20th Anniversary of the Spirit Awards features Salma Hayek and Quentin Tarantino as Co-Chairs. Samuel L. Jackson returns as host and Sideways sweeps the awards.

2006

Comedienne Sarah Silverman serves as host, making her mark with a joke about douching that informs George Clooney her vagina smells like a mountain breeze. Naomi Watts is the awards’ Honorary Chair and the ceremony takes place in the largest tent ever. Dwight Yoakum and Macy Gray perform two of the Best Feature songs.

2007

A $20 million cap is set for all films submitted for Spirit Awards nomination consideration. Sarah Silverman hosts for the second year and trumps her previous year’s notoriety with a bit about sex and cheese. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard serve as Co-Chairs for the awards, while a tribute is presented to Robert Altman along with a new award created in his honor. Little Miss Sunshine sweeps the awards.

2008

Rainn Wilson hosted the show, Javier Bardem was Honorary Chair. Wilson and his writing team won a WGA Award for Best Awards Special for their work on the Spirit Awards.

2009

British comedian Steve Coogan hosted, Alec Baldwin served as Honorary Chair, and Mickey Rourke won Best Actor for The Wrestler with an expletive-laden 6 minute speech which included thanking the Santa Monica Police Department for giving him a bed to sleep in 10 years ago.

2010

Eddie Izzard serves as host for the 25th  anniversary show which moved from an afternoon in Santa Monica to a late night party on the L.A. LIVE Event Deck in downtown Los Angeles.  Jeff Bridges wins Best Actor and performs a song from Crazy Heart along with T. Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham.  Ben Stiller serves as honorary chair.

2011

The Spirit Awards returned to a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, with actor and comedian Joel McHale hosting.  James Franco and Natalie Portman garner Best Actor and Actress nods, and while Banksy didn’t show up (or did he?) to accept his award for Exit Through the Gift Shop, artist and subject Thierry Guetta joyfully hopped on stage.