Election, the dark high school comedy produced by MTV Films and distributed worldwide by Paramount Pictures, won three top prizes at the IFP West Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica on Saturday afternoon (March 25).

The sweep echoed themes brought up by many winners and speakers at the event that the independent film-making world is in a period of dramatic change and that the independent "spirit" is more important than whether the films are financed from independent sources or by a studio.

Election won Best Feature Film, Best Director for Alexander Payne and Best Screenplay for Payne and Jim Taylor.

Election defeated Steven Soderbergh's The Limey and David Lynch's The Straight Story among others. The Limey which won four nominations went away empty-handed, while The Straight Story won one trophy for Richard Farnsworth as Best Actor.

Other multiple winners included USA Films' Being John Malkovich - originally produced by Propaganda Films under the old PolyGram umbrella - which won Best First Feature (over $500,000) and Best First Screenplay for Charlie Kaufman; and Fox Searchlight's Boys Don't Cry which won Best Actress (Hilary Swank) and Best Supporting Actress (Chloe Sevigny) awards.

In a surprise result, Run Lola Run, Tom Tywkwer's German smash which opened in North America last year, was named Best Foreign Film, beating Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother and Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy.

Artisan Entertainment's worldwide blockbuster The Blair Witch Project won the prize for Best First Feature (under $500,000).

The Spirit Awards, which were celebrating their 15th anniversary this year, have become an influential "indie" alternative to the Academy Awards which take place the following day. Many of the nominees were also up for Oscars, although only Best Actress Hilary Swank would replicate her Spirit win on Sunday night.

Other winners included Steve Zahn for Best Supporting Actor for Happy, Texas and Kimberly J Brown who played Janet McTeer's daughter in Fine Line Features' Tumbleweeds for Best Debut Performance.

The awards are voted on by the 9,000 members of the Independent Feature Project (IFP).

The show, which took place in a large tent on Santa Monica Beach, was hosted by Jennifer Tilly and included a keynote speech by screenwriter and principal of Good Machine James Schamus who said that, in this age of corporate mega-mergers, truly independent companies hardly existed anymore. Even Artisan Entertainment, said Schamus, was backed by billion-dollar companies. The independent film-making spirit now had to exist within individuals, he said.

Among the many stars attending the event were Cameron Diaz, Julianne Moore, Peter Fonda, Faye Dunaway, John Cusack, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Bridges and Wes Bentley.


Election (Paramount/UIP)
Producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, David Gale & Keith Samples

First Feature (over $500,000):
Being John Malkovich (USA Films/Universal Pictures International)
Director: Spike Jonze
Producers: Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern, Steve Golin & Vincent Landay

First Feature (under $500,000):
The Blair Witch Project (Artisan/Summit)
Directors: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
Producers: Gregg Hale & Robin Cowie

Foreign Film:
Run Lola Run (Sony Classics)
Director: Tom Tykwer

Alexander Payne, Election (Paramount/UIP)

Male Lead:
Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story (Buena Vista/Le Studio Canal Plus)

Female Lead:
Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry (Fox Searchlight)

Supporting Male:
Steve Zahn, Happy Texas (Miramax Films/Miramax International)

Supporting Female:
Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry (Fox Searchlight)

Debut Performance:
Kimberly J Brown, Tumbleweeds (Fine Line/New Line International)

Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Election (Paramount/UIP)

First Screenplay:
Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich (USA Films/United Pictures International)

Lisa Rinzler, Three Seasons (USA Films/Good Machine International)

DLJ Truer Than Fiction Award:
Night Waltz: The Music Of Paul Bowles
Director: Owsley Brown III

Movado Someone To Watch Award:
Cauleen Smith, director of Drylongso

Motorola Producers Award:
Pam Koffler, I'm Losing You, Office Killer & Crime And Punishment In Suburbia