When the Independent Feature Project/West began the Independent Spirit Awards fifteen years ago, the organization likely never expected that down the road it would end up honoring a major studio release as the best independent film of the year. But that's what exactly happened in the traditional tent on Santa Monica beach on Saturday, March 25, when Election--released by Paramount's main division--wound up the afternoon's biggest winner with three Spirit Awards, including Best Feature of 1999. In addition to winning him the Best Director trophy, the dark satire centering around a high school student government election won Alexander Payne a second trophy for the film's Oscar-nominated screenplay, which he co-wrote with Jim Taylor.
A couple of other Academy Award nominees were awarded what are sometimes called "Indie Oscars." Richard Farnsworth, Best Actor Oscar nominee for David Lynch's The Straight Story, won the Male Lead award; and Boys Don't Cry stars Hilary Swank and ChloŽ Sevigny were named Best Female Lead and Best Female Supporting, respectively, for their Academy-nominated work in Kimberly Peirce's fact-based drama. Spike Jonze, an Oscar nominee for his direction of the surreal comic fantasy Being John Malkovich, came away with a Spirit Award when his film was named Best First Feature over $500,000; another member of the Malkovich crew, writer Charlie Kaufman, added the award for Best First Screenplay to the number of accolades he's won during this awards season.
Last year's runaway indie blockbuster, the $100-million-plus-grossing sleeper shocker The Blair Witch Project, was named Best Feature under $500,000. On the other end of the token, the scarcely-seen mistaken identity comedy Happy, Texas, which made industry headlines for its multi-million-dollar acquisition at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, received some recognition when Steve Zahn's work was named Best Male Supporting Performance.
A trio of big prizewinners at that same festival were also recognized by the IFP. Tom Tykwer's popular German action thriller, Sundance Audience Award winner Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt), beat the Spanish frontrunner All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre) for Best Foreign Film. Kimberly J. Brown was hailed as giving the Best Debut Performance for her work in the mother-daughter road picture Tumbleweeds, which won the Filmmakers' Trophy in Park City. Lisa Rinzler, cinematographer of Tony Bui's Vietnam-set drama Three Seasons, repeated her Sundance victory in the same category.
As in every year, unrestricted cash grants of $20,000, in addition to trophies, were given to the winners of the Truer Than Fiction Award (sponsored by DLJ Direct), which honors documentary filmmaking; and the Someone to Watch Award (sponsored by Movado). The former went to Owsley Brown III for his film Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles, and the latter was given to Cauleen Smith, director of Drylongso. Pam Koffler, producer of I'm Losing You and Office Killer, received the Producers Award (sponsored by Motorola), which recognizes a producer who "demonstrates the exceptional creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce quality independent film despite highly limited resources."
* = winner
FIRST FEATURE over $500,000
FIRST FEATURE under $500,000
- The Blair Witch Project - Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
- La Ciudad - David Riker
- Compensation -Zeinabu Irene Davis
- Judy Berlin - Eric Mendelsohn
- Treasure Island - Scott King
TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
- American Hollow - Rory Kennedy, director
- *Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles - Owsley Brown III, director
- On the Ropes - Nanette Burstein & Brett Morgan, director
- Well Founded Fear - Michael Camerini & Shari Robertson, director
Movado SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
- Dan Clark, The Item
- Julian Goldberger, Trans
- Lisanne Skyler, Getting to Know You
- *Cauleen Smith, Drylongso
Ralph Lauren PRODUCERS AWARD
- *Pam Koffler, I'm Losing You/Office Killer
- Eva Kolodner, Boys Don't Cry/Hide and Seek
- Paul Mezey, La Ciudad
- Christine Walker, Backroads/Homo Heights
Inside the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards
15th Annual Independent Spirit Award Winners/© Michael Dequina