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Independent Filmmakers Enjoy Their Big Day

Awards: 'Fargo' wins six Independent Spirit honors, and presenter James Woods tells the well-heeled crowd: 'You've gone a little Hollywood.'

March 24, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Fargo" amassed a body count of trophies at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards nearly matching the cinematic body count in the darkly comic tale of a kidnapping gone awry.

The film--which is also nominated for seven Oscars--won six statuettes: best feature, best director (Joel Coen), best screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen), best actress (Frances McDormand), best actor (William H. Macy) and best cinematography (Roger Deakins).

Joel Coen, who had avoided several other awards ceremonies at which he was nominated, and McDormand (husband and wife in real life) swayed to a gospel choir and seemed relaxed and happy, though a tad sheepish over their embarrassment of riches.

McDormand won for her portrayal of the down-to-earth Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police chief in Brainard, Minn., who solves a grisly succession of murders with good-natured ease. While accepting her award, McDormand said she believed that the depth and unconventionality of her winning role would only be possible in the world of independent films.

"Some studio executive [would have] said, 'Marge should be a little younger or maybe not so pregnant, or she should have a different accent,' " McDormand said. "I'm really happy for independents."

As the Academy Awards increasingly recognize modestly budgeted, independent films--this year four of the five nominees for best picture were made outside of the studio system--the 12-year-old Independent Spirit Awards seem to be growing more glamorous. Upon arriving for the event, held in a cavernous tent on the beach in Santa Monica, actors and filmmakers passed through a phalanx of paparazzi and submitted to continuous interviews with the likes of "Entertainment Tonight" and Roger Ebert.

"It used to be funky, now everyone is all dressed up," awards presenter James Woods told the crowd of 1,200 gathered for the catered awards ceremony. "You've gone a little Hollywood. Sorry, but it's true."

Typical of the spillover of Hollywood attitude was this exchange overheard during the arrival of celebrities, muttered by one personal publicist about another: "What a faux pas, for the publicist to be wearing the same color as her client!' "

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Noting the large number of nominees for Independent Spirit Awards who are also up for Oscars, host Samuel L. Jackson expressed what was on the mind of many in attendance: "This could be a precursor to what's going to happen Monday."

Still, despite the inevitable Oscar prognostications and the escalating glitz factor, there remains a feeling of casual cheekiness to the proceedings, which Oscar nominees Billy Bob Thornton (who won for best first feature), Emily Watson and Joel Coen all commented upon during breaks in the ceremony and others reflected in their acceptance speeches.

"Thanks. It's a great honor and we deserve it," Ethan Coen deadpanned, upon accepting an award for best screenplay.

Elizabeth Pena received the best supporting actress award for her role in "Lone Star," but co-star Chris Cooper accepted the award on her behalf because she was "moments away" from delivering a baby.

Accepting the best actor award for Macy, who plays a doctor on "ER," Steve Buscemi, his on-screen accomplice in "Fargo," reported: "Believe it or not, Bill Macy is delivering Elizabeth Pena's baby."

Other winners included Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano ("Big Night") for best first screenplay, Heather Matarazzo ("Welcome to the Dollhouse") for best debut performance, Benicio Del Toro ("Basquiat") for best supporting actor and "Secrets & Lies," which won best foreign film.

Portions of the awards show will be televised on Bravo tonight during the Academy Awards commercial breakaways.

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