Spotlight was the big winner at the Independent Spirit Awards, held one day ahead of the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles.
Brit Idris Elba won best supporting actor for his role playing a warlord in Beasts of No Nation.
His young co-star Abraham Attah went on to win the best actor award for his first ever role.
Spotlight picked up the best film, director, screenplay and a special recognition for its ensemble cast.
The film is based on the Boston Globe newspapers investigation into child abuse by priests in the city, which became a scandal that was felt around the world.
After collecting the award for best film, director Tom McCarthy said the church still had a long way to go to address the fallout from the abuse for its survivors.
“We have yet to see action. There have been a lot of words but there needs to be action,” he said at the award ceremony in Santa Monica.
Elba’s role as a ruthless warlord in the Netflix drama Beasts of No Nation has been widely used as an example of the diversity problem for the Academy Awards and its voters after being overlooked in the nominations.
He did not address the controversy, but speaking after his Independent Spirit win, he said: “I am so more proud of being a producer on this film, it wasn’t about my performance, it was about us as a team. We were very much a family.”
The Independent Spirit Awards honour films with a budget of less than $5m.
The best actress prize went to Brie Larson for Room, the role for which she is widely tipped to win the Oscar.
She was full of praise for the author of Room, Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue, who she called the film’s “mom”.
Donoghue, who won the best first screenplay award, said she was just planning on “enjoying the day” at Sunday’s Oscars, believing she would not win the big prize.
The best supporting actress award went to Mya Taylor, the first trans woman to win at the awards, having starred in the iPhone-shot movie Tangerine.
Collecting the award, she said: “I have had a long journey through 2015 because I had come from almost nothing and then got this role and this movie, and my life just did a total 360.”
Speaking to the assembled crowed of film-makers, she added: “There is transgender talent. There’s very beautiful transgender talent. So, you better get it out there and put it in your next movie.”