The independent film community got together to honor its own Saturday at the 1997 Independent Spirit Awards, and nothing was more honored than the Coen brothers' Fargo, which swept the top categories. The charcoal-black crime comedy, up for seven Academy Awards, won for best film, best director, best actress, best actor, best screenplay and best cinematography. "Thank you very much," brother Ethan deadpanned, "we deserved it."

"I'm really happy for independence," said Frances McDormand, who won for her portrayal of the thick-accented, very pregnant cop Marge who saves the day in Fargo. McDormand is considered one of the favorites to capture the best actress Oscar come Monday. Her co-star, William H. Macy, was named best actor today, but will be squaring off in the best supporting actor category at the Academy Awards.

Double Oscar nominee Billy Bob Thornton took home the award for best first feature for Sling Blade. "This is what filmmaking is all about," he intoned. "It doesn't have anything to do with selling tennis shoes." Billy Bob celebrated his trophy by retiring to the adjacent catering tent, mingling with fans and shooting pool with the resident trick shot artist.

Secrets & Lies, another Oscar contender, was named best foreign film.

Unlike the severely repressed Oscars, the 12-year-old indie awards--held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica--is a raucous, participatory ceremony. Audience members interact with presenters and winners, wildly cheering on favorites, heckling bad jokes and The biggest applause of the afternoon was saved for Muhammad Ali, the subject of Leon Gast's When We Were Kings, which was named best non-fiction film. The audience broke out in an impromptu chant of "Ali! Ali!" and gave the former boxing champ a thunderous standing ovation. "There was nothing more gratifying than to be sitting next to Muhammad Ali when we won the award," Gast said afterward.

The 1997 Independent Spirit Awards were hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, himself a winner as best actor for Pulp Fiction. Jodie Foster and Ossie Davis were on hand as honorary co-chairs.

To qualify as an independent, a film must have been made with a low budget and show original, provocative subject matter; or, as Secrets & Lies director and keynote speaker Mike Leigh said, "To make a film without interference by boneheads." The nominees, based on 142 submissions, were announced in January and voted on by the national 8,000-member Independent Feature Project.

Here is the complete list of winners at the 12th annual Independent Spirit Awards:

Best Feature: Fargo
Best First Feature: Sling Blade
Best Director: Joel Coen, Fargo
Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Fargo
Best Actor: William H. Macy, Fargo
Best Supporting Actress: Elizabeth Pena, Lone Star
Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Basquiat
Best Debut Performance: Heather Matarazzo, Welcome to the Dollhouse
Best Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, Fargo
Best First Screenplay: Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano, Big Night
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Fargo
Best Foreign Film: Secrets & Lies
Someone to Watch Award: Larry Fessenden, Habit
Truer Than Fiction Award (documentary): Leon Gast, When We Were Kings

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