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Alexander Payne accepts his best director award for "Election"  

A warmup for the big show

'Election' voted best film in Spirit Awards

LOS ANGELES -- "Election," the little movie about a high school student with her eyes on the elected prize, was named best feature film Saturday in the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, the competition saluting the best of the independent film industry.

The competition, which takes place annually on the eve of Academy Awards, also may have hinted at what lies ahead for some of Sunday night's Oscar nominees: Three performers who won Spirit acting awards also are nominees to win awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A quirky comedy that was hardly a hit at the box office, the $8.5 million "Election" stars Reese Witherspoon as an overly eager high schooler running a ruthless campaign for student office. Matthew Broderick plays the hapless teacher who tries to get in her way.

Chloe Sevigny won best supporting actress for "Boys Don't Cry"  

The movie also won best screenplay for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, plus a best director award for Payne. The two also are Oscar nominees for best screenplay adaptation.

Other nominees for the Oscars also did well in Saturday night's awards.

Hilary Swank, who won a best actress Spirit for her role in "Boys Don't Cry," also is a strong contender to win an Academy Award. So is Chloe Sevigny, her co-star in "Boys Don't Cry," who also won best supporting actress Spirit.

Sometime-cowboy and Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth, 79, won best actor honors for his role in "The Straight Story." His reaction? "I'm going to the ranch and feed my cows."

Other Spirit winners included Steve Zahn, named best supporting actor for his turn in "Happy, Texas." Fifteen-year-old Kimberly J. Brown won best debut performance for her role in "Tumbleweeds."

Last year's low-budget shocker, "The Blair Witch Project," was the easy winner for best feature costing less than $500,000. "Being John Malkovich" won the same award for the films costing more than $500,000.

Richard Farnsworth drove home with a best actor Spirit award for "The Straight Story"  

What makes a film independent? It's more than making a film outside a studio system, says John Cusack, a Spirit nominee for best actor in "Being John Malkovich."

"I've made some films at certain budgets within the studio system that were independent film -- in their spirit," he says. "So I think right now independent film is anything below a certain budget."

The subject matter of some independent films may have prompted studios to reconsider what sort of movies sell, says film critic Roger Ebert.

"These films are still independent in spirit, which I think is the important thing," he says. "But a movie like 'Boys Don't Cry,' with all the Oscar nominations that it has, would have been a very marginal film a couple of decades ago."

Diane Lane, a nominee for best actress for her role in "Walk On The Moon," says she knows the difference between the studio projects and independents. "It's not demographic based, it's not product driven," she says. "It's more about the creative experience of the people making it."

Independent Spirit Awards 2000

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