"The Apostle," actor and director Robert Duvall's intense exploration of a Pentecostal preacher who faces a life-changing crisis, was named best feature film Saturday at the 13th annual Independent Spirit Awards.
Duvall also walked off with top honors for directing and best male lead for the same movie.
Appropriately, he accepted the awards under a tent.
"Praise Jesus!" Duvall said, mimicking fiery fictional minister Euliss "Sonny" Dewey.
Saturday's ceremony was held inside a cavernous tent erected on the beach in Santa Monica and was attended by hundreds of filmmakers, actors and executives working in independent films.
"Eve's Bayou," a drama with mystical overtones about a black family in Louisiana, won best first feature for director Kasi Lemmons and best supporting actress for Debbi Morgan.
The best female lead was won by Julie Christie for "Afterglow"; the best supporting actor award went to Jason Lee for "Chasing Amy."
The Spirit Award for best foreign film went to director Atom Egoyan for "The Sweet Hereafter." Duvall, Christie and Egoyan are all nominees for Academy Awards, which will be presented Monday.
Backstage, Duvall said he was "very thrilled" by the honors bestowed on his movie, but noted that the genesis of the film began long ago and took a lot of work to bring to life.
"I first saw a preacher years ago in Hughes, Ark., in a little church, and I had never seen anybody preach that way with that kind of cadence and style," Duvall recalled. "As a young actor, I said, 'That is something that I'd like to play.'
"In the ensuing years that I tried to get it off the ground, I never saw it as a feature film, other than a documentary," Duvall continued, saying that he did not want to portray Sonny as other films about preachers often do--in a patronizing way or looking down on them.
"Many of the incidents that happen fictionally in the film were stories I had heard in real life, like the bulldozer scene, like me taking Billy Bob Thornton outside and whipping him. Things like that really happened with preachers I knew."
Lemmons said backstage that the awards for "Eve's Bayou" were special "because there were a lot of places where we haven't gotten the nominations and, you know, everybody feels they should get more nominations."
"I'm thrilled for Debbi Morgan and also the film," she added. "There are so many things that could go wrong, but we had so many things go right."
Morgan told the audience: "I accept this as a gift of grace and as a blessing."
Egoyan said he was proud to be honored with an award by the independent film community, noting that "The Sweet Hereafter" was not the type of movie that a major studio would make.
"This is not a film that would have survived test screenings," said Egoyan, who has been nominated for the Academy Award for best director.
Other winners Saturday:
* Best debut performance: Aaron Eckhart for "In the Company of Men."
* Best screenplay: Kevin Smith for "Chasing Amy."
* Best first screenplay: Neil LaBute for "In the Company of Men."
* Best cinematographer: Declan Quinn for "Kama Sutra."
* Danielle Gardner and Errol Morris tied for the second annual "Truer Than Fiction" award for best documentary with "Soul in the Hole" and "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control."
* Scott Saunders, who co-wrote and co-produced "The Headhunter's Sister," accepted the fourth annual "Someone to Watch" award, given to honor a filmmaker with exceptional talent and vision.
* Scott Macaulay and Robin O'Hara received the producers award.