LOS ANGELES—The Independent Spirit Award may not have the international cachet of an Oscar or an Emmy, but Allison Janney still would like one to call her very own.
The actress, who has won a shelf-sagging four Emmy Awards for her work on NBC's "The West Wing," is a nominee as best supporting actress during this year's Spirit Award ceremonies, airing Saturday, March 4, on WE: Women's Entertainment, the Independent Film Channel and AMC.
Janney's film, the nostalgic drama "Our Very Own," has been well-received in its film festival screenings but still hasn't gone into general release, a frustrating situation the actress hopes the Spirit Award spotlight might change.
"This is my first recognition for a role in film, and it really means a lot to me, but it also means the world to our movie, because it's 'the little movie that could,' really," Janney says. "We're still trying to get distribution, so every bit of recognition helps, and our producer is so excited.
"There's just so much love and friendship and history that went into the making of this movie. Cameron Watson, who wrote and directed it, wrote this part for me. He's one of my best friends, and he basically wrote the story of his childhood growing up in Shelbyville, Tenn. It's just a love letter to those people, and this was one of those great experiences when a bunch of your friends get together and do something that really works."
With its limited exposure to date, "Our Very Own" isn't eligible for Oscar recognition, but the Spirit Awards -- which seek to honor "original, provocative subject matter [reflecting a] uniqueness of vision" -- give consideration to any submitted film that either has played at least one week in a commercial theater or been screened at one of six major North American film festivals. The nominated films also are budget-conscious productions for which financing has come from independent sources, not major studios, and cast members generally work for reduced wages.
"[The main factor] involves how a film is financed, whether the money comes from a big studio or is secured independently," explains Ed Carroll, president of Rainbow Entertainment Services, the parent company of WE, IFC and AMC. "I think much more from IFC's view, however, independent films are a state of mind. You just know an independent film when you see it."
Coverage of the Spirit Awards begins Saturday afternoon as actress Kathy Najimy and fashion expert Lloyd Boston host the live red carpet pre-show on WE. The action then shifts to IFC, which provides uncut and uninterrupted coverage of the awards ceremonies hosted by comic Sarah Silverman.
"I'm so happy to be hosting the Independent Spirit Awards," Silverman says. "My boyfriend (Jimmy Kimmel) told me to say that I have a very independent spirit."
Later on Saturday, AMC presents a slightly abridged and tape-delayed special covering two hours of highlights from the Spirit Award presentations.
"We hadn't done it this way before, but the Spirit Awards are a unique property that has something of value for each of the networks," Carroll says. "We refer to it as the 'anti- awards show,' because it's on the beach, it's unscripted, and it's one of the few awards shows I know that has no rehearsals. There's also no music pushing the recipients off the stage during their speeches. The actors usually arrive without their 'handlers,' and it just feels more casual.
"The other thing that is so great for IFC is that, because it is live and unscripted, something weird always seems to happen. For example, both Ally Sheedy, the actress, and Mike Leigh, the director, in different years gave acceptance speeches that felt more like filibusters, literally longer than 20 minutes. That stuff is very funny, because the longer it goes on, the more you use cutaways. Of course, nothing like that would be tolerated at the Oscars."
It's also much harder to handicap the Spirit Awards than some of the larger awards shows. Something about the Spirit Award nomination and voting process seems to level the playing field. For example, Oscar front-runner "Brokeback Mountain" is nominated in four Spirit Award categories, but the smaller-scaled comedy-drama "The Squid and the Whale" pulled down six nominations, raising the very real possibility of an upset.
"Box office counts less at the Spirit Awards," Carroll says. "Most of the other, earlier awards are viewed as a litmus test for what is going to happen at the Academy Awards. The Spirit Awards are the independent film community recognizing its own, and it's an event unto itself."
Janney, whose Spirit Award competition includes Oscar nominees Michelle Williams ("Brokeback Mountain") and Amy Adams ("Junebug"), isn't clearing shelf space for a new award just yet, but she's happy she and her "Our Very Own" colleagues are invited to this party.
"I'm just so proud that they chose to recognize us, because we're up against some other movies that are, obviously, big commercial hits," she says. "We're kind of at the other end of that spectrum. If you looked up a definition of what a truly independent film is, we are that."