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Familiar names top Indie awards

SANTA MONICA, Calif.--But first for something completely different. The 2002 Independent Spirit Awards, or Oscars Unchained, were handed out here Saturday under a big top on the beach. Oscar nominees like Nicole Kidman, Ian McKellen and Sissy Spacek rubbed shoulders with indie legends like John Waters, Kasi Lemmons and Steve Buscemi, in a hip party atmosphere.

The nominees included small films fighting for recognition. The winners mostly tended to be closer to the mainstream. Christopher Nolan's "Memento," the film told backward about a man seeking his wife's killer, dominated the afternoon with Indies for best film, best director (Nolan), best screenplay (Nolan), and best supporting female (Carrie-Anne Moss).Other multiple winners included Todd Field's "In the Bedroom," with Indies for best female lead (Spacek), best male lead (Tom Wilkinson) and best first feature. Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World" won for best first screenplay (Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff) and best supporting male (Buscemi).

Other winners include Michael Polish's "Jackpot," which won the John Cassavetes Award for best feature costing less than $500,000; Jean-Pierre Jeunot's "Amelie," as best foreign film; Paul Franklin Dano of "L.I.E." for best debut performance; Peter Deming of "Mulholland Drive" for best cinematography; and Stacy Peralta's "Dogtown and Z-Boys" for best documentary.In a hometown touch, "Dogtown," a documentary about the rise of skateboarding, was partly filmed on the very beachfront parking lot where the awards tent was pitched--and where skateboarding began its rise about 20 years ago.

Three $20,000 prizes are given during the day. The Motorola Producers Award went to Rene Bastian and Linda Moran, who made "Martin and Orloff" and "L.I.E." The Turning Left Coastal Reserve Someone to Watch Award went to Debra Eisenstadt, director of "Daydream Believer." And the DirectTV/Independent Film Channel Truer than Fiction Award, for an emerging director of nonfiction features, went to Monteith McCollum, director of "Hybrid."

The nominees included films that were obscure, difficult, and in some cases ("Lift") still without distributors. But the winners tended toward more familiar titles, and there was some overlap with the Oscars. That may be because the nominees are chosen by a plugged-in committee headed by New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell and including Sundance festival director Geoff Gilmore, while the entire membership of the Independent Feature Project West votes on the finalists--overlooking many films they might not have seen.

The Indie Spirits are famous for their irreverent acceptance speeches, and Saturday's tone was set by emcee John Waters, veteran director of cheerfully shocking camp exploitation films like "Pink Flamingos." He suggested that winners augment their income by also starring in the porn films that rip off the titles of box office hits. Buscemi, accepting his award for "Ghost World," mused, "Maybe I should reconsider that offer for 'Goat World.' "Sir Ben Kingsley, on hand to announce a supporting award, observed, "Without supporting actors, every film would be 'Swimming to Cambodia' "--Spaulding Gray's one-man film. The openly gay Oscar nominee Sir Ian McKellen, introducing the best actor award, said he had come fresh from the first facial, manicure and pedicure of his life: "I wanted to look my best for these actors."

And was Sissy Spacek serious, joking or rehearsing for a down-home role when she advised independent filmmakers in her best Virginia twang, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog"? Somehow, one doubts she'll recycle that if she wins an Oscar tonight.

The Independent Feature Project West was founded more than 20 years ago in the living room of pioneering indie filmmakers Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, to support independent films at a time when they were marginalized by the industry. In the years since, thanks to festivals like Sundance and cable channels like IFC and Bravo (which co-sponsor and broadcast the awards), indie films have grown in visibility and stature; indeed, as studio pictures tilt toward safe mass-market product, the indies have taken up the slack in the mass "quality" market.

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