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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 13:18 GMT
Translation captures Spirit awards
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online in Los Angeles

Quirky comedy Lost in Translation was the big winner at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, which honours films funded outside the traditional studio system.

Bill Murray
Bill Murray celebrates his Independent Spirit Success
Despite the first impression that the Spirit awards are a low-key affair, intended only to recognise smaller films, in reality some of the biggest box office films of the year took centre stage.

And this was a rare ceremony where The Lord of the Rings was ineligible to win any awards.

Hollywood stars were in abundance with Sir Ian McKellen, Naomi Watts, Jennifer Aniston and Sean Penn in attendance.

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful, yet blustery, beach in a tent in Santa Monica the traditional red carpet was present but designer dresses and tuxedos were not on show as the majority of guests opted for casual attire.

Sofia Coppola picked up three awards for her small budget Lost in Translation - best director, best screenplay and best feature which she also co-produced.

Backstage she acknowledged the support she had received from her father, the distinguished writer and director Francis Ford Coppola, in guiding her in screenwriting, which she also confessed she found an extremely difficult process.

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola picks up an award from Tom Cruise
The film, about two strangers meeting in Tokyo, also saw Bill Murray add to his award season haul by winning best actor.

'Monkey suit'

His role has earned him his first Academy Award nomination in a career that has spanned nearly three decades.

But the ever-laid back Murray does not seem phased by the idea of the Oscars, seeing it only as one big long wait "in a monkey suit" for it to be over.

He added that it was the film that was the reason he was receiving so much attention, not just his acting.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, who saw her movie Whale Rider pick up best foreign language film, was not fazed about being the youngest person to be nominated for a best actress Oscar.

Asked what advice she had been given in advance of the ceremony, the 13-year-old New Zealander said she had been told "to take some food along in my bag" because it was such a long event.

International awards

Whale Rider cast
Director Niki Caro with the Whale Rider cast, including Keisha Castle-Hughes (front left)
The ceremony was a truly international affair, with three of the four main acting categories going to non-Americans.

South African Charlize Theron was honoured for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, a woman killed on death row for the murder of eight men.

The film also won best first feature, with writer and director Patty Jenkins collecting the accolades.

The best supporting actor title was won by Djimon Hounsou, who hails from the African country of Benin, for In America.

A former model, he said the film was a mirror of his life because he able to go to the US and live the American dream like the movie's characters.

Oscar lunch

The red carpet fits into a universal platform where my peers are acknowledged by their peers - and I'm not going to ruin it with a political message
Shohreh Aghdashloo
And Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo collected the best supporting actress for her role in the powerful House of Sand and Fog.

She revealed fellow Oscar nominee Holly Hunter had invited all the women in the best supporting actress Academy Award category to lunch, although Renee Zellweger was absent from the party.

Aghdashloo also wanted to send a message to the people of Iran to fight for human rights, especially for children and women in the country.

Although a dedicated activist against Iran's government, she said after much discussion she had decided she would not be using the Oscars to air her political views.

"The red carpet fits into a universal platform where all my peers are going to be acknowledged by their peers and it is purely artistic, and I'm not going to ruin it with a political message." she said.

"Obviously my presence here is political because I came to this country in search of freedom and democracy and thank god everyone has been extremely supportive."

 Djimon Hounsou
Casual winner: Djimon Hounsou
Writer and director Thomas McCarthy was rewarded for making his tiny budget stretch as far as possible as he won the special John Cassavetes Award for a movie costing under $500,000, as well as best first screenplay.

Now all of Hollywood's eyes turn to the Oscars, where the size of the budget is no bar to picking up the awards.

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