Indie Spirits: 'Juno' wins best feature

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UPDATED 4:48 p.m. PT, Feb. 23, 2008

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The breakout hit "Juno" continued its winning ways at the 2008 Spirit Awards, where it was hailed as best feature and also picked up trophies for lead actress Ellen Page and screenwriter Diablo Cody.

"This was new territory for us," admitted Lianne Halfon, one of the producers of the Fox Searchlight release. "This was our first film with a happy ending and a movie about family that our families could actually see."

Presented by Los Angeles-based Film Independent, the laid-back, free-wheeling ceremonies, held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica on Saturday afternoon, focused its spotlight on independent-minded features, produced on budgets of less than $20 million. Rainn Wilson, taking a day off from "The Office," joked that two of the past year's most celebrated indie films, "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood," didn't make the cut because "they were too light-hearted."

Still, there was overlap between the Spirits and the Academy Awards. The diminutive Page, who also earned an Oscar nomination for playing "Juno's" title character, stood above the crowd as the afternoon's best actress. She expressed her thanks to director Jason Reitman and Cody, who "created an incredible character, a teenage lead I think we've never seen before."

"This is the coolest award in the coolest category. There is nothing like writing your first screenplay," said a jazzed Cody, accepting the honors for best first screenplay for the winsome comedy about a teenage pregnancy.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was honored as best male lead for his role in "The Savages," in which he and Laura Linney play troubled siblings dealing with their aging father.

Returning to the winner's podium just two years after he scored the same prize for "Capote," he confessed,"I feel like I gained two siblings, Laura Linney, who's sublime, and (writer/director) Tamara Jenkins, and I truly feel when I'm around them I feel the same comfort that I feel when I'm around my sisters."

The film also brought Jenkins the best screenplay prize.

The multiple wins for "Juno" and "The Savages" turned Fox Searchlight into the day's victorious distributor. It notched six wins, including the foreign film award for John Carney's Irish musical "Once," which prevailed over such awards-heavy contenders as "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "Persepolis."

Cate Blanchett's in-trousers performance as a Bob Dylan doppleganger in "I'm Not There" earned her best supporting female honors. After making her way to the stage, the actress, also nominated for an Oscar for the role, laughed, "It's kind of cruel to make a pregnant lady waddle that far."

After paying tribute to the film's director Todd Haynes, she accepted the trophy in the name of one of the movie's other stars, Heath Ledger, calling him "one of the most independent spirits of all."

The convention-defying film also was singled out with the first-ever Robert Altman Award, recognizing an ensemble cast. Presented to Haynes, casting director Laura Rosenthal and the movie's cast, who offered multiple takes on the life and work of Dylan, the award marked the afternoon's most emotional moment.

After testifying to Rosenthal's contributions to the project, Haynes acknowledged, "It's so bittersweet given how shattered all of us are by Heath's inconceivable absence." He then dedicated the prize to "the memory and the dazzling creative spirit of Heath Ledger."

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was another of the afternoon's double winners. Artist-turned-fimmaker Julian Schnabel was hailed as best director.

"This is a nice community of people that have been very, very generous to me, and I thank you," he said.

In addition, celebrated cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who's already earned two Oscars, was recognized for his cinematography on "The Diving Bell."

Chiwetel Ejiofar took the prize in the best supporting male category for his performance as a radio manager in "Talk to Me." Kasi Lemmons, the film's director, accepted on his behalf since he is currently in London, where he is currently appearing on stage in a production of "Othello."

"The Lookout" was named best first picture. The movie about a high school student, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, who becomes caught up in a bank heist was directed by Scott Frank, who admitted that it went through twelve years of development and was turned down by three studios before finally finding its way to the screen. But, he added, "had I made this movie at a studio, I wouldn't have had the cast that I wanted."

The John Cassavetes Award for best film made under $500,000 went to "August Evening," written and directed by Chris Eska. The movie follows an undocumented farm worker and his daughter. "This film is about an immigrant family but it is really about all of our families," said Eska, who explained he didn't consider himself a political filmmaker, but that if the film's audiences "come away with a different opinion about how we should treat immigrants in this country, that would make me very happy."

Dan Klores' "Crazy Love," a portrait of a long-running dysfunctional relationship that somehow persevered, was named best documentary.

Several film-making grants were also presented. Ramin Bahrani, director of "Chop Shop," picked up the Acura Someone to Watch Award. The Piaget Producers Award went to Neil Kopp, whose producing credits include "Paranoid Park" and "Old Joy." The recipient of the IFC Truer than Fiction Award, given to an up-and-coming documentary film-maker, was Laura Dunn, director of "The Unforeseen."

A complete list of winners follows.




Feature

"Juno"

Female Lead
Ellen Page, "Juno"

Male Lead

Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Savages"

Director
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Supporting Male
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Talk to Me"

Supporting Female
Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"

First Feature
"The Lookout"

Screenplay

Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages"

First Screenplay
Diablo Cody, "Juno"

Best Documentary
"Crazy Love"

Foreign Film

"Once" (Ireland)

Best Cinematography
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Producers Award
Neil Kopp (Producer of "Paranoid Park" and "Old Joy")

Truer Than Fiction Award

Laura Dunn (Director of "The Unforeseen")

Someone To Watch Award
Ramin Bahrani (Director of "Chop Shop")

John Cassavetes Award
"August Evening"

Robert Altman Award
"I'm Not There"

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