Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters was the big winner at the Independent Feature Project West's Independent Spirit Awards, held on Saturday, March 20 in its traditional venue of a tent on Santa Monica Beach. The film, a speculative account of director James Whale's final days, won a total of three awards--Best Male Lead (Ian McKellen), Best Female Supporting (Lynn Redgrave), and the top prize of Best Feature--at the 14th annual event, which honors the best of American independent film.
Gods's closest competitors in the awards race were writer-director Don Roos's popular black comedy The Opposite of Sex and Wes Anderson's offbeat critics' darling Rushmore, both of which earned two Spirit Awards. Roos was given the Best Screenplay Award, and the first-time director's film was recognized as Best First Feature. Anderson was the choice for Best Director, and Bill Murray was honored as Best Male Supporting for his performance in the film--which, ironically, was released by a major studio (Disney's Touchstone division).
The remainder of the awards were distributed over a wide variety of films. Ally Sheedy was named Best Female lead for her work in the lesbian-themed drama High Art. Best Cinematography honors went to Maryse Alberti for Todd Haynes's glam rock portrait Velvet Goldmine. The critically acclaimed yet Academy-snubbed dark Danish drama The Celebration (Festen), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, was named Best Foreign Film. Smoke Signals, the first film to be entirely produced by Native Americans, was honored in the Debut Performance category, which was won by its star Evan Adams. Darren Aronofsky's script for the Sundance Festival Award-winning science fiction thriller π was selected as Best First Screenplay.
In addition to recognizing the year's top indie achievements with statuettes, the IFP also helps nuture the careers of rising talents through three special awards, all of which come with unrestricted cash grants of $20,000: the Truer Than Fiction Award, for best documentary; the Movado Someone to Watch Award, given to a non-documentary filmmaker; and the Ralph Lauren Producers Award. They were won, respectively, by Barbara Sonneborn, director of Regret to Inform, which was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary; David Williams, director of 13; and Susan Stover, producer of High Art and The Sticky Fingers of Time.
While the Spirit Awards are called the indie equivalent of the Oscars, this ceremony could not be any more different, from the tent venue to the casual dress and atmosphere. The anything-goes attitude makes for an unpredictable and uncommonly honest ceremony. Sheedy in particular was unpredictable, boldly declaring, "I've never been nominated for anything before, and it will probably not happen again, so I'm taking my fucking time!" before launching into a long, perhaps ten-minute acceptance during which she dragged to the podium her award's presenter--and her longtime friend--Rosanna Arquette. Redgrave began her acceptance by frankly stating, "If you've been reading the tabloids, you know how much this means to me"--referring to the recent, well-publicized break-up of her marriage. But as memorable as those unscripted moments were, the highlight was one that was scripted: John Waters's keynote speech. Hilariously spanning such diverse subjects as excrement, gay film, and Don Knotts in 20 raucous minutes, the maverick filmmaker brought down the house--er, tent.