‘Lost’ finds its Spirit

Focus fan fave grabs four IFP awards; Theron scores

This article was updated at 5:24 p.m.

HOLLYWOOD — Focus Features’ “Lost in Translation” found indie gold Saturday afternoon as the soph effort from director Sofia Coppola won all four of its nommed categories at the Independent Feature Project’s 19th annual Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica.

Pic took home the feature prize, as well as honors for director and screenplay (both Coppola) and actor (Bill Murray). Coppola was quick to thank her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, and her producer Mitch Glazer, “who liked my first eight pages.”

“Lost in Translation” was not the only film in the tent to win multiple trophies; Fox Searchlight’s “In America,” Newmarket’s “Monster,” and Miramax’s “The Station Agent” each took home two.

Jim Sheridan’s immigration tale grabbed cinematography (Declan Quinn) and supporting male actor (Djimon Hounsou) kudos, while “The Station Agent” accepted laurels for both first screenplay (Thomas McCarthy) and the John Cassavetes Award, which honors the best feature made for under $500,000.

Quinn was unable to attend, so director Jim Sheridan accepted for him, and then, in one of the more poignant moments of the evening, led the packed crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday ” for “In America” star Sarah Bolger, who had just turned 13.

Meanwhile, Newmarket’s “Monster” won both first feature kudos for helmer Patty Jenkins and best actress laurels for star Charlize Theron.

(Supporting actress honors were won by Shohreh Aghdashloo, for DreamWorks’ “House of Sand and Fog.”)

Last year’s ISAs occurred under the clouds of advancing American troops on Baghdad, and the threat that the Oscars would not go off as planned. This year, the Indie Spirits took place under the clouds of a narrowly averted ban on awards season screener tapes and DVDS and the threat that the Oscars would not go off as planned.

Kudos MC John Waters took the stage with an incredible pirate’s yarn: He’d just been released, he said, incarcerated for having let his Academy Awards screener of “Pieces of April” fall into pirate hands. He was, he deadpanned, taken to a secret jail in Encino with “doo-doo on the walls” and where, he recounted, he’d been “raped by focus groups.”

In what clearly was meant to be an attempt at burying the hatchet between the IFP and the MPAA after last fall’s acrimonious litigation over screeners, MPAA topper Jack Valenti himself finally appeared, farcically dragging Waters off stage and, presumably, back to his anti-piracy jailers.

The theme would resurface again later in the afternoon, when the anti-studio barbs resumed with presenters Samantha Morton and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Duo self-effacingly took the indie world down a peg, introducing a faux hotline number for those contemplating suicide after screening too many depressing indie pics. But, like Waters and IFP chair Dawn Hudson, before them, they could not resist using the screener issue to trumpet the studios’ legal defeat once more, explaining that the hotline number would likely not be needed by the studio execs who have “screening rooms, friends, family and servants to help them through during the awards season.”

In other notable categories, Newmarket’s Niki Caro-helmed “Whale Rider” claimed the prize for foreign feature, a category Waters introduced to great laughter by kvetching about those in Hollywood who notoriously avoid foreign films because they dislike subtitles.

“These people,” Waters intoned, “deserve to die.”

Elsewhere, Errol Morris’ re-examination of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara in “The Fog of War” nailed down doc kudos.

Other Indie Spirit winners included:

Mary Jane Skalski, producer of “The Station Agent” and “The Jimmy Show,” received the seventh annual Producers Award, which honors producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity, and vision required to produce quality independent films. The winner of the Producers Award received an unrestricted grant of $20,000. Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott presented the award.

Andrew Bujalski, director of “Funny Ha Ha,” won the tenth annual Turning Leaf Someone To Watch Award, a $20,000 grant created to honor a director of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition. The award is funded by Turning Leaf Vineyards to help the winning filmmaker pursue his or her craft. Parminder Nagra and Mekhi Phifer presented the award.

Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk, directors of “Lost Boys of Sudan,” won the seventh annual DIRECTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction Award, presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features; a filmmaker of unique vision and talent who has not yet received significant attention. The award is accompanied by a $20,000 unrestricted grant funded by DIRECTV and IFC. Christina Applegate and Blair Underwood presented the award.

The Special Distinction Award was given to the film “21 Grams,” director Alejandro González Iñárritu, writer Guillermo Arriaga, producer Robert Salerno, and its stars Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Naomi Watts. “21 Grams” was ineligible for a Spirit Award because its budget, though still modest by studio standards, exceeded the Spirit Awards nomination guidelines. The award was presented by Laura Linney.

And the winners are…

“Lost in Translation” (Focus Features), Producers: Sofia Coppola and Ross Katz.

Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” (Focus Features)
* First-time filmmakers are not eligible for this category.

Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” (Focus Features)

“Monster” (Newmarket Films), Director: Patty Jenkins, Producers: Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson, Charlize Theron, Brad Wyman

Thomas McCarthy, “The Station Agent” (Miramax Films)

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (For the Best Feature made for under $500,000)
“The Station Agent” (Miramax Films), Writer/Director: Thomas McCarthy; Producers: Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May, Kathryn Tucker

DEBUT PERFORMANCE (Actors making their first appearance in a feature film)
Nikki Reed, “Thirteen” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Shohreh Aghdashloo, “House of Sand and Fog” (Dreamworks Pictures)

Djimon Hounsou, “In America” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Charlize Theron, “Monster” (Newmarket Films)

Bill Murray, “Lost in Translation” (Focus Features)

Declan Quinn, “In America” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

“Whale Rider” (Newmarket Films), Director: Niki Caro

“The Fog of War” (Sony Pictures Classics), Director: Errol Morris

Focus Features 4
Fox Searchlight Pictures 3
Newmarket Films 3
Miramax 2
Dreamwork Pictures 1
Sony Pictures Classics 1

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