The romantic comedy Little Deaths has won the Spartan Award from a field of 22 feature entries in the annual digital feature initiative run by the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA).

The award was accepted by Melbourne-based executive producer Jason Byrne on Friday, the last day of the SPAA conference. Byrne collaborated with writer Giula Sandler and director Sian Davies on the overall project, and produced two of the stories within the film. His film Rats & Cats, was runner up in a previous year.

Little Deaths is made up of 11 relationship stories, each with a different director but linked by two lonely tollbooth operators, who dream about the lives of the passing motorists and have a tryst of their own. The cast includes Magda Szubanski (Babe) but is predominantly a showcase of emerging talent, including Australian bands.

The film was finished two weeks before the Melbourne International Film Festival and premiered there. It does not have a sales agent or local distributor, although Byrne told Screendaily that there is a hand-shake deal in place with Madman for home entertainment.

During the conference welcome address, SPAA president Antony Ginnane argued that the quality of the entries received for the fourth digital feature intitative proved that young emerging feature film producers and some seasoned campaigners were determined to connect with audiences.

'Many (of the 19 Australian and three New Zealand entries) were extraordinary, exhilarating, visceral and audience friendly,' he said. 'One of the titles cost A$1 million; many of the others didn't even cost A$100,000.'

A series of independent producers awards were also presented by SPAA on Friday, with Cathy and Mark Overett of New Holland Pictures being named the feature film producers of the year. New Holland's first feature, Peter Duncan's Unfinished Sky, was in cinemas this year, and a dozen or so other features are in active development, including many international co-productions. The Queensland-based company has a New Zealand office, an alliance with Irish company Rippleworld Pictures, and is part owned by Amsterdam-based producers Anton Smit and San Fu Maltha.

Entertainment lawyers Bryce Menzies and Shaun Miller from Melbourne firm Marshalls & Dent won the services and facilities award, and former Film Finance Corporation chief executive Brian Rosen was presented with the Maura Fay Award for Services to the industry.

The overall independent producer of the year award went to Des Monaghan and Bob Campbell, principals of television production company Screentime, which this year had a major hit in Underbelly, a drama based on Melbourne's underworld.

There was uncertainty but also excitement in the air at the conference because of the massive structural reforms happening in the feature filmmaking landscape. A new agency, Screen Australia, was introduced on July 1 and a producer offset that pays producers back 40% of expenditure is being bedded down.