‘Tiger’ shows most Independent Spirit

Most awards went to pics that premiered at Sundance last year

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” leaped away with best feature, director (Ang Lee) and supporting actress (Zhang Ziyi) nods at IFP/West’s 16th annual Independent Spirit Awards, held under a sprawling tent on the Santa Monica beach.

Event raised north of $2 million for the IFP/West, which uses the money for its year-round services to filmmakers. With the exception of “Crouching Tiger,” the awards largely went to pics that premiered at Sundance last year.

“You Can Count on Me,” written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, won screenplay and first feature kudos, while “Requiem for a Dream” took actress (Ellen Burstyn) and cinematography (Matthew Libatique) nods.

Spanish actor Javier Bardem nabbed the actor award for his performance in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls.”

Other key winners were Gina Prince-Bythewood for “Love & Basketball”; “Chuck & Buck,” feature under $500,000; Willem Dafoe, “Shadow of a Vampire,” supporting actor; and Michelle Rodriquez, “Girlfight,” debut performance.

Foreign film honors went to dark musical “Dancer in the Dark,” directed by Lars von Trier, while the docu award was bestowed upon Palm Marc Singer’s gritty portrait of the homeless, “Dark Days.”

For his producer duties on “The Ballad of Ramblin Jack” and “Spring Forward,” Paul Mezey won the Motorola Producers Award. The seventh Annual Movado Someone to Watch Award went to Marc Forster for his digital pic “Everything Put Together.” Siblings David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro won the fifth annual Direct TV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award, presented to emerging docu directors.

Broadcast live on the Independent Film Channel, the awards were hosted by spirited and irreverent master of ceremonies John Waters.

Awards with edge

Waters opened the evening with a snappy standup routine in which he took a jab or two at the Academy Awards. Despite the glitz and star quotient, Spirit awards’ anti-Oscar edge shined through in the selection of Bardem and Burstyn, who were thought to have only outside chances to win Oscars.

Ceremony omitted a keynote speech in the interest of moving the event along quicker; it nevertheless seemed to drag at times. Upon winning the director nod, Lee confessed that he didn’t really know what “indie filmmaker” meant. “Nobody can be independent,” he said. “We all rely on each other. It’s a collaborative process.” Taking the stage a second time for best feature, he mused, “I was just wondering, How come we didn’t make it in the best foreign film category?”

One of the evening’s most touching moments came when Gena Rowlands took the stage to present the male lead award. Her presence brought the fatigued audience to its feet for a standing ovation. The ovation repeated when Bardem won. “This thing is for (Cuban writer) Reinaldo Arenas,” said the actor, holding the award above his head, “who gave his life for freedom.”

Burstyn’s win also brought the crowd to its feet. “It’s a honor to reflect the spirit of humanity back to itself,” an overwhelmed and teary Burstyn beamed, after thanking “Requiem” director Darren Aronofsky for giving her “the part of my career.”

After the show, IFP/West exec director Dawn Hudson praised the org’s noms of truly indie films. “The spectrum of films nominated this year reflects the true spectrum of independent filmmaking — from ‘George Washington’ to ‘Groove’ to ‘Tiger.’ We’d rather be inclusive than exclusive. We’ve stopped splitting hairs about where the films’ money comes from.”

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