Independent Spirit Awards 2006: Little Miss Sunshine Big Winner

Little Miss Sunshine was the big winner at the Independent Spirit Awards, winning top feature, directing for Jonathan Daytor and Valerie Faris, first screenplay for Michael Arndt and supporting actor for Alan Arkin.

Fox Searchlight’s “Sunshine” dominated the awards, announced in afternoon ceremonies in a tent on Santa Monica Beach, with its quartet of wins.

Thinkfilm’s “Half Nelson” was the only other pic to garner more than one award as Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps took the respective male and female lead actor awards.

“Little Miss Sunshine,” the top box office performer among indies last year with worldwide grosses of $95 million, won over “Half-Nelson,” IFC’s “American Gun,” First Look’s “The Dead Girl” and Picturehouse’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the best feature category. The win maintains recent awards-season momentum for the dysfuctional family comedy following victories at the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild for top ensemble and Writers Guild for best original screenplay.

As with the PGA award, the Spirit Award for “Little Miss Sunshine” went to all five producers — David Friendly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. The latter two producers have been excluded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences from receiving an Oscar should “Sunshine” win the Best Picture Oscar due to the AMPAS rule limiting the number of recognized producers to three.

“Little Miss Sunshine” could join “Platoon” as the only Spirit Award feature winners to also win the Oscar Award for Best Picture. Last year’s Spirit winner “Brokeback Mountain” lost out Best Picture Oscar to “Crash,” which also won the Spirit Award’s best first feature trophy.

“Sunshine” and “Half-Nelson” had led the Spirit nominations with five each. Arkin topped castmate Paul Dano for his supporting actor trophy.

Jason Reitman won the screenplay trophy for “Thank You for Smoking,” giving Searchlight five of the 13 awards.

Sony Classics took three trophies, winning for Frances McDormand in the supporting actress category for “Friends with Money,” best foreign film for “The Lives of Others” and the John Cassavettes Award for “Quinceanara” for top feature made for under $500,000.

“Sweet Land” won the best first feature trophy for producers Alan Cumming, James Bigham and Ali Selim, who also directed. The award marked the first time that a picture without a distributor has taken the best first feature prize.

Roadside Attractions’ “The Road to Guantanomo” took the documentary award for directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross.

Howard Gertler and Tim Perell, producers of “Shortbus” and “Pizza,” received the Axium Producers Award, which honors emerging producers; Julie Lotkev, director of “Day Night Day Night,” won the IFC/Acura Someone to Watch award; and Adele Horn, director of “Tailendrs,” won the Axium Truer Than Fiction Award, presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant attention.

Film Independent, which administers the awards, decided in 2005 to limit nominations to pictures with budgets under $20 million. Nominees were selected by Spirit Awards panels from over 250 submissions; winners were voted on by members of Film Independent and the Independent Film Project.

Previously announced kudos included a special distinction award to David Lynch and Laura Dern for their collabarative work and an Honorary Spirit Award to the late Robert Altman. Sarah Silverman emceed the show.

The 2007 Independent Spirit Winners

FEATURE (Award given to the Producer)

“Little Miss Sunshine,” Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, producers

FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)

“Sweet Land,” Ali Selim, director Alan Cumming, James Bigham, Ali Selim, producers

DIRECTOR

Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, “Little Miss Sunshine”

MALE LEAD

Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”

FEMALE LEAD

Shareeka Epps, “Half Nelson”

SUPPORTING MALE

Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”

SUPPORTING FEMALE

Frances McDormand, “Friends with Money”

SCREENPLAY

Jason Reitman, “Thank You For Smoking”

FIRST SCREENPLAY

Michael Arndt, “Little Miss Sunshine”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Guillermo Navarro, “Pan’s Labyrinth”

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)

“Quinceanera,” Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland, writer/directors; Anne Clements, producer

DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)

“The Road to Guantanamo,” Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, directors

FOREIGN FILM (Award given to the director)

“The Lives of Others,” (Germany); Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director

AXIUM PRODUCERS AWARD

Howard Gertler and Tim Perell

SPECIAL DISTINCTION AWARD

David Lynch, Laura Dern