Duvall garners best pic, director and actor

The Independent Spirit Awards sang a round of the “Hallelujah Chorus” for October’s “The Apostle.” Robert Duvall’s saga of an evangelist whose personal life shakes his faith was named best picture, and Duvall picked up individual honors as director and actor.

“This was definitely an independent film,” said Duvall, recalling his years of putting together money and dodging officials to get it made. “I hoped I could do the man justice. Going from acting to directing requires that you turn the process around and then turn ink into behavior.”

Also scoring multiple wins were Trimark’s “Eve’s Bayou,” as first feature and for Debbi Morgan’s supporting performance. Miramax’s “Chasing Amy” received statues for its screenplay and a supporting nod went to actor Jason Lee. “Amy’s” writer-director Kevin Smith provided one of the afternoon’s more outrageous moments when he said the prize made up for every woman who’d belittled his male shortcomings.

Lucky 13

Now in its 13th year, the Spirit show brought out more than 1,100 people to Santa Monica beach, where it’s held under a giant tent. While emotions ran high, the program was fraught with glitches.

Host John Turturro got the ceremonies off on a high note doing a dead-on impersonation of Martin Scorsese as an imagined spirit-world guru directing the event. Unfortunately, real life played out less smoothly.

The first prize, handed out to Aaron Eckhart for his debut performance in Sony Classics’ “In the Company of Men,” was the first awkward moment, when it could not be determined whether he was in attendance. As the presenters were about to exit, a flustered Eckhart arrived and accepted his prize with a terse “thank you.”

A short time later, a considerably more relaxed Eckhart returned to the podium to read an acceptance speech from “Company” writer-director Neil LaBute, who won the award for first screenplay. Later, Eckhart explained that handlers had arranged an ill-timed photo op just prior to his category.

Passionate outbursts

The sort of passionate outbursts that made past events memorable occurred mostly offstage. Director Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson, who’ve been carrying on a feud in the press over racial epithets in “Jackie Brown,” had their tense moment in the TV prep room, with Lee telling the actor, “We have to talk later.” Jackson silently got up and left the room.

Errol Morris, whose “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” shared the best documentary prize with “Soul in the Hole,” simply didn’t appear; he was under the impression the ceremonies took place in the evening.

Lee, who gave the Spirit keynote, offered a rambling address recalling some early personal history and criticizing Hollywood and the unions for not supporting minorities. He also talked about his docu “4 Little Girls,” up for an Oscar but snubbed by the Spirit selection committee.

A shift in focus

The type of rallying cry to indies so much a part of these awards in the past was replaced by self-deprecating remarks and acceptances heavy on thank-yous to collaborators, family and professional reps. And the presenters appeared ill-at-ease with the shtick-filled humor. William H. Macy and Elizabeth Pena failed to elicit laughs in belated thank-you speeches for awards received last year, and Jennifer Tilly’s X-rated versions of indie titles, a hit with last year’s crowd, proved lightning doesn’t strike twice. Yet a new indie rating system facetiously detailed by Bill Pullman and Cameron Diaz hit the mark with such designations as NQ (Not Quentin), just like Tarantino but not as good; I (Imposter), a studio film masquerading as an indie; and CB (Cry Baby), two hours of characters whining about their lives. Etchie Stroh, whose company Moonstone financed “Afterglow,” also got a chuckle when he accepted Julie Christie’s best actress award by reading her message as if he were the actress.

A high point from Egoyan

One of the high points of the afternoon came from foreign film winner Atom Egoyan, who wrote and directed “The Sweet Hereafter.” After thanking Canadian cultural institutions that support the arts, he cited Victor Nunez’s “Gal Young Un” (Nunez was on hand for “Ulee’s Gold”) and Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” as pictures with the independent spirit that motivated him to become a filmmaker. “This (award) makes me proud to be part of that movement.”

A complete list of winners follows.

FEATURE

“The Apostle” — producer, Rob Carliner.

FIRST FEATURE

“Eve’s Bayou” — director, Kasi Lemmons; producers, Caldecot Chubb, Samuel L. Jackson.

FOREIGN FILM

“The Sweet Hereafter” — director, Atom Egoyan.

DIRECTOR

Robert Duvall — “The Apostle.”

SCREENPLAY

Kevin Smith — “Chasing Amy.”

FIRST SCREENPLAY

Neil LaBute — “In the Company of Men.”

ACTOR

Robert Duvall — “The Apostle.”

ACTRESS

Julie Christie — “Afterglow.”

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jason Lee — “Chasing Amy.”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Debbi Morgan — “Eve’s Bayou.”

DEBUT PERFORMANCE

Aaron Eckhart — “In the Company of Men.”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Declan Quinn — “Kama Sutra.”

DOCUMENTARY

“Soul in the Hole” — director, Danielle Gardner; “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” — director, Errol Morris.

FINDIE (FRIEND OF INDEPENDENTS)

Bob Harvey, Panavision.

SOMEONE TO WATCH

Scott Saunders

PRODUCERS AWARD

Scott Macauley, Robin O’Hara.

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