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Left to right: Producers Anthony Katagas and Dede Gardner, director Steve McQueen, and actor/producer Brad Pitt, and producer Arnon Milchan (third right), accept the Best Feature award for ‘12 Years a Slave’ with actress Angela Bassett (fourth right), onstage during the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach
‘12 Years’ rolls at Spirit Awards Blanchett named best female lead  

SANTA MONICA, California, March 2, (Agencies): Harrowing slavery drama “12 Years a Slave” swept the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday with five wins. “12 Years a Slave” won five of its seven nominations at the awards show for independent movies made on small budgets, including the top award for best feature. Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o also took home Spirit Award trophies. “12 Years a Slave” producer-director Steve McQueen dedicated the best picture Spirit Award to lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and supporting star Michael Fassbender, who were both nominated but did not win. “Michael Fassbender is a genius, he’s brave, he’s feminine, he’s masculine ... that’s what Michael Fassbender is. Chiwetel was the soul and heart of this movie, and gave the most nuanced performance you’ve ever seen,” McQueen said. McQueen also won best director.

The Spirit Awards, held in a giant tent on California’s Santa Monica beach, is usually a sunny and crisp affair. But this year guests were armed with umbrellas and rain boots as bursts of heavy rain pattered on the tent. Rising star Nyong’o, who made her film debut with “12 Years a Slave”, jumped in delight as her name was announced as best supporting actress, giving Ejiofor a hug and being carried to the stage by McQueen. “Thank you Film Independent. Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday!,” the actress, who turned 31 on Saturday, said with a big smile and dedicated her award to her mother. Blanchett won the Spirit Award for best female lead for her role as a woman dealing with a financial fall from grace in “Blue Jasmine.” “This film proves that audiences are interested in stories led by women, and that they can in fact make money,” the Australian actress said.

The actress also led a tribute to late actors James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman and film critic Roger Ebert. McConaughey, who has made a transition from big budget comedy fare to independent dramas in the past two years, was named best lead male actor for his role as AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof, who became a beacon of hope for the AIDS community in the 1980s. McConaughey’s co-star Leto, another Oscar favorite, won best supporting actor for playing a transgender HIV-positive woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and had one of the afternoon’s more amusing thank-you speeches. “In case this is the last time I get to thank anyone, I wrote down a couple of names because it’s important to me,” the actor said, before reading off a long list that included his nominees, co-stars, family, artists, musicians, actors, “all the women I’ve been with and all the women that think they’ve been with me” and “my future ex-wife Lupita.” He also thanked Hoffman and shared his award with the family of Gandolfini, who was nominated in the category.

The Spirit Awards, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based non-profit group Film Independent, are Hollywood’s top honors for independent film and art house projects made for less than $20 million.
Notable Spirit Awards winners in previous years that have gone on to win the Oscar the following day include Natalie Portman for “Black Swan” in 2011, and Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” last year. Other winners from Saturday included best documentary for “20 Feet From Stardom,” a film about backing singers, and lesbian coming-of-age tale “Blue is the Warmest Color” for best international film. “Nebraska” writer Bob Nelson won the best first screenplay award. “This is really the fulfillment of a boyhood dream to one day become the oldest recipient of the first time screenplay award,” Nelson, 57, quipped. The best first feature film award went to Ryan Coogler, the 27-year-old director of “Fruitvale Station,” based on the killing of a young black Oakland, California man who was shot down on New Year’s Eve in 2009 by white police officers.

Coogler gave a passionate acceptance speech about similar stories across the United States, including the September 2013 police shooting of an unarmed young black North Carolina man, Jonathan Ferrell.
“I can’t help but think when I hear stories like this, if Jonathan Ferrell looked like Matthew McConaughey, he wouldn’t have been shot down, he would have been alive,” Coogler said, winning a standing ovation from the audience. Several beloved fixtures of independent film were also remembered. The deaths of James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffman and critic Roger Ebert over the last year were singled out. Gandolfini’s wife, Deborah Lin, and one of their two children attended the ceremony. (The actor was nominated for best supporting male performance.)

The Spirits’ Robert Altman Award, an honor for best ensemble and director, was given to Jeff Nichols’ coming-of-age tale “Mud.” The John Cassavetes Award, which honors films made for less than $500,000, went to the unlikely friendship drama “This Is Martin Bonner,” which director Chad Hartigan said was made for just $42,000. Gasps of admiration were heard throughout the beachside tent.
Other winners included “20 Feet From Stardom” for best documentary, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” for best international film, Bob Nelson of “Nebraska” for best first screenplay, and “Short Term 12” for best editing.

The spirit of thrifty striving pervaded. McConaughey (also a co-star in “Mud”) called indie work, “a feeder road” compared to the Autobahn of big-budget moviemaking. But he said he relished the freedom, even though it means “less zeroes on the paycheck.” In his monologue, however, Oswalt put a less optimistic spin on it. He said that in the course of his opening remarks, “The Lego Movie” had made more money than all of the Spirit Award nominees combined.

* Best Feature: “12 Years a Slave”
* Best Female Lead: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
* Best Male Lead: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
* Best Supporting Female: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
* Best Supporting Male: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
* Best Director: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
* Best Screenplay: John Ridley, “12 Years of Slave”
* Best Documentary: “20 Feet From Stardom”
* Best International Film: “Blue is the Warmest Color”
* Best First Feature (Award given to the director and producer): Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale Station”
* Best First Screenplay: Bob Nelson, “Nebraska”
* Best Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt, “12 Years a Slave”
* John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000): “This is Martin Bonner”
* Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast): “Mud”
* Piaget Producers Award: Tony Halbrooks and James M. Johnston
* Stella Artois Truer Than Fiction Award: Jason Osder, “Let the Fire Burn”

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