by Tom Cunha
As early buzz suggested, Robert Duvall's "The Apostle" was the big
winner at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, picking up best actor
and director honors for Duvall in addition to best picture. "It was
initially October [Films] that made this possible," Duvall said,
crediting the film's distributor as being the only studio in the
business willing to take on the film which he had been pitching around
for years. "The more I pursued it, the more I was refused and the more
it spurred me on. In the meantime, I changed the script through the
years. I referred to the Bible and found things to put in here and
there." Despite the fact that it took Duvall so long to bring his dream
project to the screen, ultimately resulting in his coughing up the $5
million himself to finance it, he acknowledged that he probably wouldn't
have been able to make the same film back then, "When I wrote this
script fourteen years ago, it's a better movie now than it would have
been then. I've always been a late bloomer." As a result of this film's
success, Duvall is going to be collaborating with October Films again on
another project which is being written now, though this time he'll be
working only as an actor.
"Eve's Bayou" was another big winner, snagging both Best First Feature,
given to director Kasi Lemmons and producers Caldecot Chubb and Samuel
L. Jackson, and Best Supporting Actress, given to daytime soap vet Debbi
Morgan. "This is the little film that could," said Morgan, "it kept
growing and growing." Morgan expressed that she had no idea the film
would acquire the success and attention it has, giving credit to
moviegoers for supporting a unique African-American film that was
neither urban nor violent. Lemmons, on the other hand, envisioned the
film being a success in it's early stages. "I can't say that I didn't
think about it because when you're pitching it you say, 'This is gonna
be huge and its gonna make five times its budget and its gonna get
nominated for awards." Of course, it was my biggest hope for the film."
Jackson, who dabbles in indie films when not doing big scale projects
like "A Time to Kill," explained the allure of working on smaller
movies, "Independent films give me the opportunity to take risks that
I don't get to take in studio films." "Bayou's success, both
critically and commercially, also marks a redefining point for
distributor Trimark, which was primarily known for grade B titles such
as the "Warlock" series, and now boasts a more distinguished slate of
upcoming releases including the recently acquired Sundance fave "Slam."
"I'm an award kind of guy," said writer/director Kevin Smith outside the
press tent after picking up Best Screenplay honors for "Chasing Amy,"
"I'm a guy that needs validation. I don't do it for the art, I do it for
the hardware. This is the hardware and thank God I won it." Smith was
initially skeptical about how his film would be received prior to its
release. "I was worried that people wouldn't get it." Clearly they did.
In addition to Smith's success, the film served as a career springboard
for leads Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee, who took home
the Best Supporting Actor honors and called the win "the most exciting
that has ever happened to me." Smith begins filming Miramax's "Dogma,"
an irreverent film which focuses on organized religion, later this month
with Linda Fiorentino in the lead.
The final multi-prize winner was Neil LeBute's "In the Company of Men,"
which won Best Debut Performance for Aaron Eckhart and Best First
Screenplay for LaBute. Eckhart, who almost missed his chance to accept
the award because he was being photographed outside the tent, later said
that "Independent films give me and other people license to do work
that they believe in." Eckhart also recounted how he and LaBute and
planned to make a film together for years. The two collaborated once
again for the upcoming Gramercy release "Your Friends and Neighbors,"
which LaBute also scripted and stars Nastassja Kinski, Jason Patric and
Amy Brenneman and which Eckhart promises "will shock you and make you
want to vomit just as much as 'In the Company of Men.'" LaBute was with
his family in Indiana and unable to attend the ceremonies, leaving
Eckhart to accept the award on his behalf saying, "What could be more
independent minded than missing the Independent Spirit Awards."
Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter" took home the award for Best
Foreign Film. Egoyan admitted that he was surprised to have gotten
Oscar nominations for best direction and adapted screenplay. When asked if he
thought today's ceremony would be his last trip up to the podium he
said, "I spoke as though it was. I think the chances of going up on
[Oscar night] are kind of slight but its really great to be there. And
if I felt there was a chance, I would be a lot more nervous than I am."
The event drew a number of celebrity presenters including
AndieMacDowell, whose career was launched in the landmark
independent film "sex, lies and videotape." "Luckily I'm at the point
where I'm not going to do a studio film unless I believe in it and I'm
passionate about it," MacDowell said. "I don't have to work for money
anymore." Jennifer Tilly, who stars in four upcoming indies joked, "I
prefer doing the independent films better because usually in the
independent films I'm Jennifer Tilly over the title as opposed to buried
in the end credits."
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