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'Far From Heaven' sweeps Independent Spirit Awards

Monday, March 24, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SANTA MONICA -- The carpet walkway was blue, the old-fashioned peace buttons tastefully teal and the anti-war sentiment as fiery as the midday sun at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards where "Far From Heaven" was the big winner.

Dennis Quaid, who won the best supporting male award for his performance in "Far From Heaven," says the movie was "about people and emotion, simple human emotion." (Chris Pizzello, Associated Press)

Related information: Independent Spirit Award winners

The 1950s style melodrama won trophies Saturday for best picture, stars Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid, director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman. But it was the war with Iraq that provided a steady if distant drumbeat to the free-wheeling proceedings that were like a casual Friday (or, technically, Saturday) version of the Academy Awards to come. Dissent was not only encouraged, but roundly encouraged and applauded.

Elvis Costello opened the show with the musical question, "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding" and writer Mike White closed his acceptance speech for best screenplay for "The Good Girl" with, "Let's use a little bit of our spirit this year to get [President] Bush out of office."

No one was as outspoken as filmmaker Michael Moore, a winner for his "Bowling for Columbine" documentary, who excoriated the president and suggested the "American military has invaded the U.S. media. You turn on any channel right now and you've got a general telling you what's going on. I want the U.S. troops to withdraw from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox. They have no business being there telling people the so-called truth."

In a press tent at Santa Monica Beach, where the ceremony was held, a hoarse Moore in his usual uniform of jeans, T-shirt, sweatshirt and baseball cap, was asked about his choice of targets.

"Why don't I take potshots at Saddam Hussein? I can't do anything about Saddam Hussein. I can do something about the guy who claims to be leading this country. ... This is Bush turning from compassionate conservatism to compassionate terrorism; that's the new dictate and philosophy of the Bush administration."

For some winners, the Indie Spirits were a moment to bask not in politics, but personal triumph.

Four years ago, an unknown by the name of Derek Luke was waiting tables at the awards. This year, he was named best male lead for playing the title role in Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher," and he literally jumped for joy. In the sweetest gesture of the day, he insisted his wife Sophia accompany him to the stage and then he handed her his award for providing him with steady support through years of struggle.

And for all those waiters serving the likes of Moore, Quaid, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert Duvall, Chris Cooper, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Taye Diggs, Matt Dillon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brittany Murphy, Joe Pantoliano and many others, Luke quoted his lines from "Antwone Fisher": "I'm still standing. I'm still strong."

A 10-year-old girl from Washington, D.C., named Raven Goodwin, a nominee for best debut performance in "Lovely & Amazing," walked the press line with her manager, the composure of a pro and the only set of ponytails nicely tied with pink ribbons to match her sweater and paisley skirt. She lost to no-show Nia Vardalos from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," who reportedly had been filming her TV show late the night before.

The runway rule was the bigger the star, the later the arrival, the faster the walk and the louder the cry from photographers and reporters. Pitt, in jeans, and Aniston, in a sleeveless black dress and ponytail, moved at a brisk clip, but a glamorous looking America Ferrera from "Real Women Have Curves" was happy to chat about women embracing her movie's message. Likewise, documentary nominee Steve James mentioned his trips to Pittsburgh to research a dramatic movie about Roberto Clemente.

The awards, hosted once again by Baltimore's favorite son John Waters (whose date for the day was Patricia Hearst), bill themselves as a "celebration honoring films made by filmmakers who embody independence and who dare to challenge the status quo." Founded in 1984, they pick nominees based on original, provocative subject matter; uniqueness of vision; economy of means, with attention paid to budget and individual compensation; and percentage of independent financing.

As in recent years, there was crossover between the Indie Spirits and the Academy Awards. But the Oscars aren't held a stone's throw (well, maybe if you've got the arm of Quaid in "The Rookie") from the sand. And Oscar nominees and press take advantage of traditional indoor plumbing, not green trailers with portable restrooms. As honorary chairperson Halle Berry asked after noting the awards' longevity, "Why the hell is it still being held in a stupid tent?"

In addition to questions about peace pins and the propriety of photo opportunities and gift baskets in a time of war, there were a few about the matter at hand: movies. Producer Christine Vachon, accepting best feature honors for "Far From Heaven," said, "I have been to this awards show 13 or 14 times. I've never been on this stage before. I've always been the bridesmaid, never the bride."

Quaid, who finished a movie at 2 a.m. and arrived at the ceremony fresh from a plane from Montreal, told reporters that the travel from Los Angeles to New York was the hardest part about his role as a secretly homosexual husband in 1950s Hartford, Conn. It was the best kind of work -- effortless -- and it struck a chord with audiences because, "There's no special effects. No car crashes. It's really all about people and emotion, simple human emotion."

Co-star Moore, casual in jeans, sandals and the sort of bright flouncy top reminiscent of the '60s, had turned her peace pin into a necklace pendant and said parents teach their children not to fight and "fighting's not the answer." But the war has "put what we do in perspective. We are an artform, we're a form of entertainment," and awards ceremonies double as industry conventions.

"But it's also good it doesn't get out of hand and become something that's of utmost importance in the world."

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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