The Film Independent Spirit Awards take place each year right off the ocean in sunny Santa Monica, Calif., the day before the Academy Awards. The attire is beachy and casual, and so is the mood. Guests drink heavily (for the past three years, Jameson has been a main sponsor) and mingle inside the tent, where -- while food is served and seats are assigned -- it's more common to mill around, chat and reconnect with some of the biggest players in Hollywood.
There is a real community vibe at the Indie Spirit Awards and it feels like a camp reunion of sorts -- except with more booze and lots of cigarettes. There is very little competition and mostly hugs, laughs, smiles and sunglasses as actors, directors, producers and agents alike all toast the best independent films of the year.
This year, many of the films on deck for Sunday's Academy Awards were also celebrated Saturday with Spirit Award nominations, including "The Artist," "The Descendants," "My Week With Marilyn," "Beginners," " Midnight In Paris," "A Better Life," "A Separation," "Margin Call" and "Drive. "
But one film in particular swept the night.
"The Artist" pulled in Best Feature, Best Director, Best Male Lead and Best Cinematography. In a foreshadowing opening speech, funnyman host Seth Rogen quipped about awards season, "'The Artist' is winning everything. I thought this is why we created a foreign film category. We can't compete with them." Immediately following the awards, The Wrap's email alert blasted into iPhone inboxes with a subject line of BREAKING: 'The Artist' Dominates A Mainstream Indie Spirit Awards.
Crowd favorite Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Male for "Beginners" and mused, "I raise my glass to all spirits, good and evil, who have come my way. And to Mike Mills."
Mills, the writer and director of "Beginners," spoke with The Huffington Post about the Spirit Awards and getting ready for his first trip to the Academy Awards Sunday. He has decided to go without cufflinks and in the same shoes he wore Saturday. He laughed, revealing that he has found himself asking the opinion of everyone -- including the press -- about his outfit choice for the Oscars. Filmmaker wife Miranda July, who is six months pregnant with their first child, will attend the the show with Mills.
Reflecting on the Spirit Awards, Mills said, "I don’t really hang out in the film industry, I live in Silverlake. I barely bump into it. It's really special and heartening to be remembered and included in the conversation of these films today. You always believe in your work. But you never think you're going to be here. At least I don't. And with 'Beginners,' I remember feeling like this was going to be one of the best times of my life. I knew it was happening when it was happening."
Inside the tent, it was a mixture of generations, as 20-year-old Shailene Woodley won Best Supporting Female for "The Descendants," and in between awards, young actress Brie Larson crossed the room to personally introduce herself to William H. Macy.
The Huffington Post caught up with "The Artist" actor James Cromwell, age 72, outside in the breeze. Cromwell said he sees the Indie Spirit Awards as "a celebration of artistry and a love of the cinema. This is the way artists behave with each other. The Academy Awards is the way businessmen behave with each other. And we are sort of just the glitter on the tree -- not me! -- but actors are.
"The Spirit Awards feel casual, and it should be casual," he continued. "This is not the work. This is the celebration -- tomorrow is the selling. That's not what today is about. This is about all of us who work at this thing, care about it, have devoted our lives to it and believe in it."
The independent film community lost one of its greats this year with the passing of veteran film executive Bingham Ray. Close friend and actor Patricia Clarkson came on stage between awards and called a toast for Ray saying, "This man was an independent film -- gutsy, heartbreaking, ingenious, and with way too many curse words for PG-13."
The amount of crossover between the Indie Spirit Award nominations and the Oscar nominations this year speaks to the exquisite quality of many of the "smaller" films from 2011. This year's Academy Awards aren't only about the biggest sets or the highest paid actors -- there's a silent, black and white film, as well as one about an undocumented Mexican gardener. And "The Artist" is likely to win many awards Sunday, including Best Picture and possibly Best Actor.
With so many impressive, independent films overlooked by this year's Academy Awards, many actors and filmmakers may have been disappointed to see "The Artist," as The Wrap says, "dominate" the Indie Spirit Awards Saturday. But when Michelle Williams took home Best Female Lead for Weinstein's "My Week With Marilyn," one could practically see a light from above illuminating his head. Saturday is and will continue to be a reminder of the holy power of Harvey Weinstein.
For a complete list of winners from the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards, click here.
Jameson sponsored the 2nd annual Jameson FIND Your Audience Award, which helps one low-budget independent film find a broader audience. This year, the award was granted to Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias, co-directors of "Unfinished Spaces." To read more about the award, click here.