Gunning for an Indie Spirit Award

Newport Beach filmmaker Aric Avelino's American Gun was announced today as an Independent Spirit Award best picture nominee. Half Nelson, The Dead Girl, Pan's Labyrinth and Little Miss Sunshine round out the premiere category for the 2007 Film Independent's Spirit Awards ceremony that will air live beginning at 3 p.m. (and, if past years are any indication, immediately rebroadcast) on Saturday, Feb. 24, on IFC, the Independent Film Channel.

Aric AvelinoOnly Half Nelson and Little Miss Sunshine, with five nominations each, received more Spirit Award nods than American Gun, which received three nominations, as did The Dead Girl, Man Push Cart and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Forest Whitaker was nominated for best male lead and Marcia Gay Harden was nominated for best supporting female. Avelino talked with me about Whitaker's stunning performance and how much it helped his project casting a solid actress like Harden here.

Sadly, Avelino joined Pan's Labyrinth's Guillermo Del Toro in being the only directors of best picture nominees shut out of the Spirit Award's best director category. But they were bumped aside by two heavy hitters: Steven Soderbergh, whose teeny Bubble changed the way films may someday be distributed (it was released in theaters, on DVD and on paid cable television simultaneously), and the recently deceased Robert Altman, who will likely win many sentimental votes since A Prairie Home Companion will be considered the capper to a brilliant career.

Worse for Avelino should American Gun win best pic: producers, not directors, receive the award. Del Toro also produced Pan's Labyrinth.

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But Avelino surely does not mind. Just receiving the best picture award raises American Gun's stature, as well as his own. Not only did the 28-year-old make his directing debut with the film, he co-wrote it with Steven Bagatourian, his classmate from Edgewood Private School in Santa Ana. (Avelino went on to graduate from Mater Dei High School and Loyola Marymount University's film school.

American Gun interlocks fictional stories from three different cities (Chicago, Bend, Ore., and Charlottesville, Virginia) to demonstrate how America's grip on deadly firearms is as tight as, well, a firm hand around a Glock handle. Avelino and Bagatourian's central idea came from a Los Angeles Times "Column One" article, and they were influenced by a friend from Chicago who told stories about how students brought guns to school—not to use on campus but to protect themselves from the dangerous neighborhoods they lived in or walked through to get to school.

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