Robert Nott A number of movies made in New Mexico — including a darkly humorous homage to spaghetti westerns and a drama about an investment broker who decided to start over again in Taos — picked up awards at the 9th Annual Santa Fe Film Festival's Milagro Awards Ceremony at the Scottish Rite Center on Saturday night. Actors Alan Arkin and Ali MacGraw (both Santa Feans) hosted the roughly two-hour event, which played to a capacity crowd.

The ceremony honors participating filmmakers in a number of categories and pays tribute to special guests. This year, actor James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential), cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter) and composer Howard Shore (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) were the tributees.

Cromwell and Zsigmond received standing ovations from the enthusiastic audience. The latter, who escaped Hungary during its 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, told the audience he redubbed himself William Zsigmond once he arrived in America. But, while he was shooting Peter Fonda's 1971 western The Hired Hand in New Mexico, Fonda told Zsigmond, "Vilmos — what a beautiful name. I will call you Vilmos and give you credit as Vilmos at the end of the movie." So, Zsigmond, who changed his name back after that exchange, explained, "I was born in Santa Fe."

Most of the filmmakers kept their acceptance speeches short, and some were eloquent and humble. Jonathan Sell, who picked up a State Farm Best Latino Award for his first-person narrative documentary My Quest for the Holy Burrito, said, "Many imperfections are there (in the film). I'm just glad somebody looked past those imperfections and saw the story."

New Yorker Lance Doty, whose locally shot western, Shoot First And Pray You Live, won an Independent Spirit Award, spoke clearly but looked disheveled. "They warned us about drinking and the altitude here, but I didn't believe them," he explained, garnering a laugh.

There were other laughs, some of which were unintentional. As with Milagro Ceremonies past, there were several snafus during the ceremony, which started 40 minutes late. After the Kodak Cinematography Award for Daniel Myrick's supernatural drama, The Objective, was announced, a film clip for James Chressanthis' documentary No Subtitles Necessary: Lazlo and Vilmos was shown. Chressanthis won for Best Documentary — which chronicles the relationship between Zsigmond and the late Hungarian cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs — but his award had not been announced yet.

"We don't know what the hell is going on here," Arkin said, clearly thrown by the mix-up. "This always happens. It's really scary," MacGraw, a frequent emcee of the event, said.

At one point it was discovered that the winner of one award had taken another person's trophy. The two were called back to the stage to exchange prizes, leading to a drawn-out silence and some comic by-play. "This is a real Santa Fe event," MacGraw said, drawing another big laugh.

That said, an unexpected highlight was the appearance of actors Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen, who are in town shooting the made-for-television movie Georgia O'Keeffe. The two jointly presented James Cromwell with his award.

Other winners:

Best Short: Missing Pieces, a short about a young man who goes to extreme lengths to avoid getting cancer, by Samah Tokmachi.

Suzanne Petit Memorial Editing Award: State of Rock, about the rise and fall of the New York rock band Girls of Porn, by Anthony Arkin (Alan Arkin's son).

Best animation: Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley's contemporary take on an ancient Hindu fable.

Creative Spirit: An Unlikely Weapon, Susan Morgan Cooper's documentary about the late photojournalist Eddie Adams.

Tamalewood Best New Mexico Film: Taos, by Brandon Schmid.

Film For Change Producer Award: Gospel Hill, Giancarlo Esposito, a star-fueled drama of racial and economic strife within a black community.

Best Indigenous: Welcome to Enurmino, a look at a remote Russian community, by Aleksei Vakhrushev.

Audience Choice: Play the Game, featuring Andy Griffith as a grandfather who picks up dating tips from his ladies' man grandson, by Marc Feinberg.

Best of Fest: Animater Ari Folman's wartime mystery, Waltz to Bashir

Heineken Red Star Award: Justin Evan's New Mexico-shot thriller, A Lonely Place for Dying

Governor's Cup Awards: The shorts One Square Mile of Earth by Albuquerque cartoonist Jeff Drew and Coyote Tales: Mystery's Night by Taos artist and musician Frederick Aragon.

The festival continues through today with screenings, panel talks and parties. Check out www.santafefilmfestival, call 989-1495 or visit the box office, 519 Cerrillos Road.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3020 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

Education Reporter

Robert Nott covers education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican