By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire February 25, 2007 at 12:00AM
"Little Miss Sunshine" and "Half Nelson," two films that emerged from the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, were the biggest winners at Film Independent's Spirit Awards today. "Sunshine," nominated for four Oscars this year including best picture, won four awards at the Santa Monica beachside ceremony, including the prize for best feature, along with awards for best director (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris), best supporting male (Alan Arkin), and best first screenplay (Michael Arndt). Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's "Half Nelson" won two awards for its acting. Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling won the Spirit Award for best actress and Shareeka Epps won the prize for best actress. The prize for best first feature went to Ali Selim's "Sweet Land" and the John Cassavetes Award, for a movie made for less than $500,000, went to Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland's "Quinceanera."
"This day's gonna go in the diary," "Quinceanera" co-director Wash Westmoreland said, smiling as he accepted his prize alongside Richard Glatzer. Continuing, he said he was glad to be nominated for the John Cassavetes Award, because it, "Meant we were in the competition of fine independent films made on a small budget and it meant we didn't have to go up against 'Little Miss Sunshine.'"
Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' "The Road to Guantanamo" won the award for best documentary, while the prize for best foreign film went to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives Others" (also nominated for best foreign film at the Oscars this year).
"This is dedicated to the 400 people who are still in Guantanamo Bay today," said Matt Whitecross, accepting his award and also thanking the film's U.S. distributor Roadside Attractions, saying, "We really wanted (this film) in the U.S., this is the only place where it really counts."
Howard Gertler and Tim Perell (producers of "Shortbus" and "Pizza") received the $50,000 Axium Producers Award grant, while Julia Loktev (director of "Day Night Day Night") won the $50,000 IFC/Acura Someone To Watch Award, and Adele Horne (director of "The Tailenders") received the $50,000 Axium Truer Than Fiction Award.
New this year, David Lynch and Laura Dern were honored with a special distinction award for their collaborative work (most recently on "Inland Empire") and the late Robert Altman was posthumously presented an honorary Spirit Award, while FIND also announced that a new Spirit Award -- The Robert Altman Award -- was created in the director's name, to be presented at the 2008 Spirit Awards to one director and its ensemble cast.
"I can only hope that filmmakers who are out there..." said "Sunshine" director Jonathan Dayton, accepting his award for best director with Valerie Faris, "can gain some hope from what has happened with us in this movie. We were dead in the studio system, they'd given up on this. Thankfully people in the independent world stuck with us."
"Yesterday, Forest (Whitaker) called me asking if I would win for him tonight," Ryan Gosling said, accepting his best actor prize, "He better win tomorrow night, I've got a lot of money on him."
2007 INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD WINNERS:
"Little Miss Sunshine"
Producers: Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, "Little Miss Sunshine"
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Director: Ali Selim
Producers: Alan Cumming, James Bigham, Ali Selim
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (feature made for under $500,000)
Writer/Directors: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Producer: Anne Clements
Jason Reitman, "Thank You For Smoking"
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Michael Arndt, "Little Miss Sunshine"
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Shareeka Epps, "Half Nelson"
BEST MALE LEAD
Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson"
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Frances McDormand, "Friends with Money"
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Guillermo Navarro, "Pan's Labyrinth"
BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)
"The Road to Guantanamo"
Directors: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross
BEST FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)
"The Lives of Others
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
SPECIAL DISTINCTION AWARD
David Lynch, Laura Dern
FILMMAKER GRANT NOMINEES
IFC/Acura Someone to Watch Award (narrative prize)
Julia Loktev, director of "Day Night Day Night"
Axium Truer Than Fiction Award (documentary prize)
Adele Horn for The "Tailenders"
Axium Producers Award (producing prize)
Howard Gertler and Tim Perell, producers of "Shortbus" and "Pizza"