Five independent filmmakers received cash grants totaling $150,000 today from Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the LA Film Festival.

The recipients were announced at the annual Spirit Awards Nominee Brunch held at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood. John Cho (Star TrekColumbusSearch) and Alia Shawkat (Search PartyBlazeDuck Butter) co-hosted the event and handed out the honors.

“This year we are giving out $150,000 in cash grants to a group of remarkably talented writers, directors, and producers,” said Film Independent President Josh Welsh. “The Spirit Awards grants are designed to provide critical support to these filmmakers, recognizing them for past accomplishments and helping them to develop new work.”

Chloe Zhao
REX/Shutterstock

The day’s big winner was Chloé Zhao, who received a $50,000 unrestricted grant, the prize for the inaugural Bonnie Award sponsored by American Airlines. Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo joined American Airlines in 1973 at age 24, becoming the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline. The Bonnie Award recognizes a mid-career female director. Other finalists for the award were So Yong Kim and Lynn Shelton.

Jonathan Olshefski, director of Quest, received the Jeep Truer Than Fiction Award, presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not received significant recognition. The award is in its 23rd year and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant. It was funded by the Jeep brand for the first year. Other finalists for the award were Shevaun Mizrahi, director of Distant Constellation, and Jeff Unay, director of The Cage Fighter.

Justin Chon, director of Gook, received the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award. The award recognizes talented filmmakers of singular vision who have not yet received appropriate recognition. The award is in its 24th year and includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Kiehl’s Since 1851 for the fourth consecutive year. Other finalists for the award were Amman Abbasi, director of Dayveon and Kevin Phillips, director of Super Dark Times.

Summer Shelton received the Piaget Producers Award. The award honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce quality independent films. The annual award, in its 21st year, includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant funded by Piaget for the 11th year. Other finalists for the award were Giulia Caruso & Ki Jin Kim and Ben Leclair. 

The Seattle Story Award went to Matty Brown. The award is for a filmmaker who exhibits innovation, diversity, and uniqueness of vision while having a history of transforming perspectives through rich stories. The award includes a $25,000 cash grant, sponsored by Visit Seattle, to create a short film inspired by Seattle’s independent spirit. This film will premiere during the Spirit Awards broadcast.

This year marks the 33rd edition of the awards show that celebrates the best of independent film. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney return to co-host the show, and director Ava DuVernay is the Spirit Awards Honorary Chair. Winners for the remaining categories will be revealed at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, March 3. The awards ceremony will be broadcast live on IFC at 2 PM PT / 5 PM ET.