The LA Times had a less-than-flattering piece up over the weekend about Film Independent, the organization that runs the Independent Spirit Awards. The biggest difference between Independent Spirit Awards and its more bigger-sibling counterpart, the Oscars, though, isn't just in the more casual attire of the former, or the more mainstream content of the films lauded at the latter; it's in the fact that Film Independent, a charitable organization, is able to claim part of the expenses of its bash as a "charitable service." This, as the LAT article notes, puts the A-List attended indie bash in the same tax category as a soup kitchen for the homeless.

The main gist of the article is that Charity Navigator, a watchdog org, gave Film Independent zero stars out of four for both 2004 and 2005, due to its low ratio of program spending -- just 50% and 49% in 2004 and 2005, compared to similar non-profits. The Sundance Institute, for instance, had ratios of 74% and 72% for the same years, while American Cinematheque had ratios of 90% and 87%. The article also called into question the salary of Dawn Hudson (pictured above), Film Independent's exec director, earned a base salary of $265,000 in 2005, more than the heads of the Academy-affiliated Academy Foundation or the American Film Institute.
Film Independent has since amended its most recent returns, reclassifying its fest and awards show as charitable services rather than fundraising events, which boosted its program-spending ratio to about 75%. Charity Navigator's Trent Stamp wasn't impressed, calling it a "quick and dirty whitewashing of their financial forms."

Anne Thompson reports on her Risky Biz blog that the LAT piece has spawned a fight over there between the LAT Calendar section and the Metro section, which ran the piece, and notes that the author of the piece, Paul Pringle, does not cover the film beat. Thompson notes that LAT critic Kenneth Turan said the piece was not shown to the Calendar editors, who were reportedly "furious." Thompson, who was at the Spirit Awards, also reports that "tongues were wagging" inside the tent over the piece, and that support seemed strong for both Film Independent and Hudson. Sony Picture Classics co-prez Tom Bernard reportedly said he thought that "someone with a right-wing agenda was going after indie film" with the piece.

Film Independent does a lot to promote indie film, and the Spirit Awards in particular have probably done more to support and promote indie film than any other single event. As Thompson noted, 600-plus media outfits around the world were there to cover the event, and that's not a bad thing. Right?