"Rambling Rose," the wistful story of a young woman's romances and her impact on an upstanding Southern family, was named best American film produced outside of the Hollywood studio system at Saturday's rollicking and off-beat Independent Spirit Awards party.
"Rose" also picked up an award for director Martha Coolidge and another for best supporting actress Diane Ladd, who is also a nominee in that category at tonight's Academy Awards.
The day's other top winner was "My Own Private Idaho," a story of discovery between two streetwise gay hustlers. Gus Van Sant, who also directed the film, won prizes for screenplay and music, and River Phoenix was selected as best actor.
Held amid the weekend hoopla leading up to tonight's 6 p.m. Oscar ceremony, the annual Spirit Awards, given by the Independent Features Project/West, serves as a counterpoint to the dressy, high-gloss Academy Award affair.
That was apparent Saturday as "My Own Private Idaho's" other star, Keanu Reeves, pulled up to the entrance of the Raleigh Studios off Melrose Avenue riding a motorcycle. Most of the other guests drove themselves, rather than arriving in limousines.
Guests included a variety of independent producers, major studio and talent agency representatives, plus executives from such industry firms as Panavision, Eastman Kodak, Bravo and the Completion Bond Co.
Among the celebs on the scene were Oscar nominees Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Jason Lee, Lily Tomlin, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, Laura San Giacomo, Julian Sands, Jane Seymour, plus directors Oliver Stone and Robert Altman, producers Edward Pressman and Roger Corman, and the event's keynote speaker, director Francis Ford Coppola.
Recording star Janet Jackson made an unusual film industry appearance, attending with "Boyz N the Hood" director John Singleton. Notable amid the informally dressy crowd was avant-garde stage director Peter Sellars, dressed in a Third World tunic.
Some observed that the luncheon awards, held as they were outdoors at an actual studio, had the resonance of Robert Altman's "The Player," his latest movie, which contains barbs about the movie-making scene. Even the film's star, Tim Robbins, was there.
In accepting the IFP's John Cassavetes Award for filmmakers, Altman couldn't resist deflating the independent-minded creators in his audience.
"What most of the independent companies that come in really want to do is become majors," he said, noting how most filmmakers' careers gravitate to the bigger deals. "People like John Cassavetes give us courage to make our way up--to sell out."
Master of ceremonies Buck Henry kept the audience of about 1,000 roaring as he introduced "JFK" director Oliver Stone with his own "two-directors conspiracy theory" about how that movie, which speculates on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was made:
"We know who was in Dallas when they were shooting 'JFK,' don't we? Kevin Costner. Yes. Kevin Costner, who very conveniently isn't here today. (He's not here) any more than is Martin Scorsese," Henry said.
"Yes. Martin Scorsese who isn't here, even though he is a co-chairman of this event and was a teacher under whom Oliver Stone studied directing . . . after conveniently dropping out of Yale, a university good enough for Jodie Foster and George Bush. . . ."
For his part, Stone changed the tone and directed a harshly worded rebuttal to some members of the media, film critics and politicians for attacking his movie with what he called "pre-censorship." Accepting the IFP's Golden Reel Award, given to "longtime friends of the independent movement," Stone said: "It's not easy to make a movie that offends just about everybody. I'm proud of that."
The independent sprit was punctuated by two of the winners, who told of beating the odds.
First-time director Matty Rich, 20, won the Spirit Award for best first feature film, for "Straight Out of Brooklyn." In accepting the recognition, he told of how he charged money on credit cards to pay for the film and how, as a younger man, he grew up in the housing projects "not seeing the 'Brady Bunch' family" and seeing "all the six friends I had die."
"I never went to college. I taught myself how to become a filmmaker just because I wanted to stay alive--by using my eyes and my brains and my reading and determination and persistence," he said. "And I talk about that a lot to my peers. It will get you up here."
Coolidge told of how "Rambling Rose" took five years to come to the screen. She acknowledged difficulties in Hollywood for women, noting: "I was told when I applied to graduate film school that I couldn't be a director because I was a woman."
"There were many times that I didn't know how I could go on," she said. But she took strength from the advice of someone "who told me, when I first came to Hollywood, that 'talent counts. But above all, what really counts is perseverance.' And I want to tell you, it's true. I'm here to say that you can do it."
Other Spirit Award winners:
* Actress: Judy Davis, "Impromptu."
* Supporting actor: David Strathairn, "City of Hope."
* Cinematography: Walt Lloyd, "Kafka."
* Foreign film: "An Angel at My Table," director Jane Campion.