These questions and contradictions, at least in mind, continued through the evening. Midway into a strained series of jokes by hosts Oliver Platt and Eddie Falco, who would have done well to travel miles off script or rewrite the existing one, Ang Lee and Jim Jarmusch took the stage. They were there to introduce their old buddy, Tom Rothman, former attorney, founder and president of Fox Searchlight Pictures, current Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, and lifetime friend of independent film. Lee and Jarmusch glowed about Rothman. Then he emerged to hearty applause.
“In my experience, all great filmmakers are independent, in the most important sense of that word,” said Rothman, flanked by Jarmusch and Lee, both of whose early work he encouraged and supported. Rothman mentioned films by “established superstars” such as Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis, Weir and Ridley Scott and, in the same sentence, “independent giants” such as the men standing behind him, Anthony Minghella, Danny Boyle, Kenneth Branagh, Kim Pierce, Mira Nair, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, “and of course tonight’s immensely gifted Searchlight nominees.”
Continued Rothman: “I can tell you that the very best filmmakers, of any stripe, always have an independent vision stemming from clarity of purpose. That vision is not defined by the cost of the film or the source of financing. Audiences don’t care about those things. They only care how a film makes them feel, how it moves them, touches them, or enlightens them.”
There ought to be more Rothmans in today’s film world, fueled by passion, not what Pauline Kael called “the numbers” in her famous 1980 New Yorker article. Rothman is urbane, affable, a lover of the low and high, and, refreshingly, is known as a mogul who wears his feelings on his sleeve. You always know what he thinks, for better or worse. [In a brief interview before the show, near the flashing cameras of the red carpet, Rothman told me independent film had become more marketing-dependent over the last decade.]