Sheridan to key Spirit Awards

The eighth annual Independent Spirit Awards get a new look and a new location as the burgeoning event shifts venues to the Hollywood Palladium Saturday. “In the Name of the Father’s” Oscar-nominated writer/director Jim Sheridan will give the keynote address and iconoclastic filmmaker Jim Jarmusch will be honored with the John Cassavetes award. There will also be a film homage to River Phoenix, who was a Spirit winner for his performance in “My Own Private Idaho.”

The Independent Feature Project/West’s annual tribute to the best of the American indie spirit includes both a Taiwanese (“The Wedding Banquet”) and Canadian-financed (“Equinox”) feature, as well as an adaptation from the Bard (“Much Ado About Nothing”), in its best feature category.

“I guess our tiny realm just keeps growing,” said IFP/W exec director Dawn Hudson. “Our rules embrace a broad range of films and that’s what keeps the organization and the event lively.”

The annual luncheon has grown from a quiet, intimate affair in a now-defunct restaurant into the favorite, hot ticket pre-Oscar party. The “Buck” has passed to Robert Townsend as emcee for the afternoon of prize giving, speeches and special presentations.

Gary Grossman, who’s co-producing the event with Kathy Bornstein, promised that the Spirits would be “shorter and sleeker without losing its personality.” Cabler Bravo — a key sponsor along with Kodak, Entertainment Weekly and Panavision — will again broadcast a half-hour program centered on the awards and air interviews with the winners during commercial breaks of Monday’s Oscar ceremonies.

Other special award recipients include New Line Cinema founder and chairman Robert Shaye, who will be presented with the Findie — the Spirits’ equivalent of a career achievement prize. Sandra Schulberg, who spearheaded the formation of the IFP, receives an award; and producers James Schamus and Ted Hope, whose credits include “Wedding Banquet” and Sundance winner “What Happened Was … ,” get the Brian Greenbaum Award for tenacity and artistry on a low budget.

Presenters confirmed at presstime include Sandra Bernhard, Angela Bassett, Val Kilmer, James LeGros, Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Debi Mazar, Bill Paxton, Sean Penn, Laura San Giacomo, Madeleine Stowe, Emma Thompson, David Thewlis and Alfre Woodard.

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