IFP, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent moviemakers, has announced the nominees for the 18th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards (formerly known as the Gotham Awards).

The awards are the first major honors of the film awards season and usually a sign of success to come. Past winners, such as Juno (2007), Half Nelson (2006) and Junebug (2005), have gone on to receive additional awards and Oscar nominations, which bodes well for this year’s 22 nominated films, including Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married and Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (both of which received a total of two nominations in the same categories: Best Ensemble Performance and Breakthrough Actor).

Michelle Byrd, executive director of IFP, says “2008 has proven to be an extremely strong year for an immensely diverse group of filmmakers tackling a range of subjects and forms in new and dynamic ways.”

Ballast, Lance Hammer’s directorial debut and multiple-award winner, has received the most nominations this year, including Best Feature, Breakthrough Director, Breakthrough Actor and Best Ensemble Performance. The remaining two categories are Best Documentary and Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. The winner of the latter will receive a cash prize of $15,000, new this year.

President of HBO Documentary Films Sheila Nevins, Penélope Cruz and moviemakers Gus Van Sant and Melvin Van Peebles will also be presented with Tributes at the ceremony, which will take place on Tuesday, December 2 at New York City’s Cipriani Wall Street.

For more information and a full list of nominations, visit http://gotham.ifp.org.