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THE 2004 INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS

The biggest surprise at the 2004 IFP/Los Angeles Independent Spirit Awards occurred during John Waters’s opening monologue. As Waters spun out an outlandish, increasingly hilarious story involving him being imprisoned in an MPAA cell for participating in screener bootlegging, none other than MPAA topper Jack Valenti appeared to grab the microphone away from Waters, handcuffing and dragging the mustachioed director offstage.

Indeed, the tale of the screener battle — recounted by IFP/Los Angeles (a co-plaintiff) Executive Director Dawn Hudson — was, more or less, the afternoon’s sole political topic of discussion. There was no Michael Moore rant and, perhaps remembering last year’s Britney Murphy on-stage meltdown, all of the celebrity presenters were polished and on-point, smoothly executing their comedic intros or satirical musical pieces. (I’m sure every agent and manager endlessly played the Murphy clip as a cautinary tale to their presenting clients.)

A high point amongst the presenter bits occurred when the announcer intro’d, “You love them, you want to be them… Jennifer Aniston and Mike White!” The Chuck & Buck and School of Rock scripter hilariously grilled Aniston as to why she failed to win a Spirit for The Good Girl.)

Among acceptance speeches, Bill Murray’s was the favorite at my table. After declining to thank the film’s director or producers — “because their heads are getting too big… and that’s not independent! — he then humbly wished the success Lost in Translation has had in attracting an audience to every filmmaker member of the crowd. (I’m paraphrasing here, but trust me, it worked.)

Another personal moment was Jim Sheridan, accepting for Best Cinematography winner Declan Quinn, telling young In America star Sarah Bolger that the event wasn’t actually the 2004 Spirit Awards but really her 13th birthday party and then leading the audience in a “Happy Birthday” singalong. (This impromptu highlight was not televised on Bravo, as they presumably had not cleared the rights to the song.)

The big winners? Lost in Translation (Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor), The Station Agent (First Screenplay and John Cassavetes Award for Features under $500,000), and Monster (First Feature and Actress). Other winners were Nikki Reed (Debut Performance), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Supporting Female), Djimon Hounsou (Supporting Male), Whale Rider (Foreign Film) and Fog of War (Documentary).

The Turning Leaf Someone to Watch Award went to Funny Ha Ha director (and Filmmaker 25 New Faces pick) Andrew Bujalski and the DIRECTV/IFC Truer than Fiction Award went to Lost Boys of the Sudan directors Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk. Both awards came with cash prizes of $20,000, but the Producers Award this year was sponsorless, so winner Mary Jane Skalski (The Station Agent) picked up an IOU. (Luxury goods manufacturers, global media concerns, and cutting-edge software and technology startups interested in supporting indie producing talent contact the IFP/Los Angeles.)

There was also special recognition given to several undistributed films, including Virgin and Anne B. Real.

See the next issue of Filmmaker for more on these films and other Spirit winners.

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