SANTA MONICA, California (Reuters) - Silent movie romance "The Artist" on Saturday won four Independent Spirit Awards, the year's top honors among movies made outside Hollywood's major studios, including best film and director in a prelude to the Oscars.
"The Artist," a black-and-white movie from French writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, also picked up Spirit Awards for its star Jean Dujardin, who portrays an actor whose career collapses with the advent of the talkies, in the best actor category and Guillame Schiffman for cinematography.
The film's makers arrived in Los Angeles directly from Friday's Cesar honors in France, and had to be brought to the Spirit Awards from the airport with a police escort. But they shrugged off any jet lag to happily accept their awards.
"Physically it's tiring, but the energy is so good you don't really feel tired," Hazanavicius told reporters backstage about the current awards season in Hollywood and around the world.
About Sunday's Academy Awards, the world's top film honors, he admitted a touch of "stage fright ... (An Oscar) is something that we have had in our eyes for a long time, so I can't say I'm super cool.
"But today, this is important too," Hazanavicius added, pointing to his Spirit Award. "This means a lot because it ('The Artist') is a small movie. It's not expensive."
The nearest rival to "The Artist" for Spirit Awards was family drama "The Descendants," which claimed two honors: best screenplay for Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; and best supporting actress for Shailene Woodley.
The Spirit Awards are given out by Los Angeles-based, non-profit group Film Independent, and are widely considered among the top trophies for low-budget and art house movies.
They come a day before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out the Oscars, where "Artist" and "Descendants" square off for best film alongside seven other movies, including studio-backed civil rights drama "The Help."
Other top Spirit Awards went to Michelle Williams for best lead actress with her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn." Williams, too, is nominated for Sunday's Oscars, but is widely considered an underdog to Viola Davis in "The Help" and Meryl Streep as former British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
Williams noted the low-budget nature of indie filmmaking when she accepted her Spirit Award onstage, saying the first time she had been at the show that takes place near the beach, she'd arrived in her own clothes and had done her own hair - no glitz and glamour of the Oscar red carpet.
"I still remember the feeling that in the room, unlike others, that was okay, possibly even preferred," Williams said. "I want to say thank you for supporting me and welcoming me and making me feel at home in this room, all the way back then and now, where the only thing that I own, that I'm wearing, is my dignity."
The other key winner was Christopher Plummer, who was named best supporting actor for his role in "Beginners" as an elderly gay man who comes out of the closet to his family.
"It's taken me the longest time to realize the Spirits Awards have nothing to do with booze, so pity that," Plummer quipped about the casual atmosphere at the so-called Indie Spirits that is as much cocktail party as award show.
Film Independent also spotlights first-time filmmakers and others on the rise in the industry. In that arena, financial meltdown movie "Margin Call" picked up two trophies including best first feature film for director J.C. Chandor. Will Reiser claimed best first screenplay for cancer comedy "50/50."
Finally, Iranian divorce drama "A Separation" was named best international movie, and "The Interrupters" picked up the Spirit Award for top documentary.