Independent film makers were formally--and, many independents would say, finally--recognized by the Establishment here Thursday with the first presentations of a new award, the American Film Institute Award for Independent Film and Video Artists.

It was presented Thursday to video artist Nam June Paik, experimental film maker Stan Brakhage and animator Sally Cruikshank.

"Perhaps we have taken too long to honor independents in this way, but this evening marks a major turning point," AFI chairman Richard Brandt told a mix of independent artists and industry veterans gathered at downtown Manhattan's Tower Gallery. This mix was reflected by the presence of the two co-chairmen of the committee for the new annual award, AFI board members actress Marsha Mason and New York-based independent film exhibitor Karen Cooper.

The new award is subtitled the Maya Deren Award, in honor of the pioneer avant-garde film maker who died in 1961, and includes a $5,000 honorarium. Noting "considerable despair among young and older artists in these terribly difficult times for independents," Brakhage welcomed the new award as "a source of encouragement."

In an earlier interview, AFI director Jean Firstenberg said that the 20-year-old institute had been searching for some time for the best formula for recognizing "the independent spirit in film making and the independent community." She cited existing AFI programs for independents, such as grants and video festivals, but noted the absence until now of an industry-sponsored award similar to the Life Achievement Award presented by AFI annually to a major Hollywood figure. The Maya Deren Award will go annually to three recipients in areas "that cross the movie-image disciplines," Firstenberg said.

Pointing out that the new award will heighten AFI's presence in New York, "the heart of the independent community," Firstenberg also expressed hope that the award will in time become well known and "bring more national recognition to the independent community."

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