Rob Nilsson, the first American director to win both the Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is being recognized in numerous ways as he celebrates his 50th anniversary as an independent filmmaker. He also has a slate full of projects in the works, including his new feature LOVE TWICE. Now shooting in the San Francisco Bay area, the film stars Tristan Cunningham, Jeff Kao, Carl Lumbly and Lydia Becker and features musician/actor John Cale. (Nilsson’s 1990 film WORDS FOR THE DYING documented Cale recording The Falklands Suite with producer Brian Eno.)
As Nilsson forges ahead with this and other projects, the legacy of the influential director is being recognized both in the U.S. and abroad. Sandra Schulberg of IndieCollect recently announced that the Archives of the Sundance Collection at UCLA will be the repository for Nilsson’s collected filmwork (1965-2015), including NORTHERN LIGHTS (winner of the Camera d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival), HEAT AND SUNLIGHT (winner of the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival), SIGNAL 7 (the first small-format video feature to be blown up to film and distributed worldwide) and the groundbreaking 9 @ NIGHT – a series of nine films that Nilsson shot over a 14-year period featuring players from the workshop that he founded in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, the Tenderloin Action Group (later known as the Tenderloin yGroup).
“IndieCollect is at the forefront of efforts to find and catalogue the works of outstanding American independent filmmakers. Nilsson is one of them,” said Sandra Schulberg, President and Executive Director, IndieCollect.
Critics, filmmakers and others have bestowed similar praise on Nilsson over the years. The late director John Cassavetes (SHADOWS, FACES, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE) once remarked, “Nilsson’s films are beautiful, exciting, imaginative, unfamiliar, and outside of that, very good.” Film Comment predicted, “he’ll still be making films when the rest of us are having our bones examined by archeologists…By now no one can doubt his ability to get such things done, quickly, cheaply, and artfully” while film critic Ray Carney hailed Nilsson as “the conscience and agent provocateur of low–budget American independent filmmaking.” Mark Fishkin, Executive Director of the Mill Valley Film Festival, observed, “He is an innovative master who is in the prime of his career – spinning stories with the ease of a grand jazz master such as John Coltrane or Miles Davis.” Nilsson has won numerous awards and been the subjective of a host of retrospectives. See below for a partial list.
HEAT AND SUNLIGHT will screen in New York City on July 20 as part of BAMcinématek’s series “Indie ’80’s”, dedicated to the landmarks and overlooked masterpieces of American Independent Cinema in the 1980’s. The two-month series kicks off with an opening week of classics, including HEAT AND SUNLIGHT, alongside films by Robert Townsend, Jim Jarmusch, Joyce Chopra, Penelope Spheeris and Les Blank. Series co-programmer Jake Perlin states, “Including Heat and Sunlight prominently, as befits its status, was an easy decision. It is a major work, that will come as a revelation to new audiences, and a reminder of just how brave and independent Nilsson is.” Rob will be on hand to introduce the film.
HEAT AND SUNLIGHT is one of five Nilsson films available on demand via Fandor. Rob will reprise his role as photographer Mel Hurley, the lead character in HEAT AND SUNLIGHT, in PERMISSION TO TOUCH, a new feature that he plans to shoot in a single day. Set 35 years after HEAT AND SUNLIGHT, PERMISSION TO TOUCH explores Hurley’s relationship with Funmi Marlow, a nude model played by a sensational new actress, Tristan Cunningham, a member of Nilsson’s Citizen Cinema Player’s Ensemble who also stars in LOVE TWICE.
Director Michael Edo Keane examines Nilsson’s extraordinary career – up to and including LOVE TWICE and PERMISSION TO TOUCH – in the forthcoming documentary A DIRECT ACTION STORY. Stacy Keach, John Cale and director Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART), are among those interviewed in the documentary.
A DIRECT ACTION STORY is named for the style of filmmaking that Nilsson developed in his inner-city acting and production workshop – a method based on improvisation and scenarios rather than full scripts. Rob will teach a master class in Bologna, Italy at the International Filmmaking Academy. Previous master teachers at the Academy have included Bernardo Bertolucci and Abbas Kiarrostami.
“In the grip of powerful emotion, players create circumstances and character in backstory improvisations, and then come together – maybe collide is a better word for it,” says Nilsson, explaining the process of Direct Action filmmaking. “What I want, what I need, what I love, what I hate – those are four foundations of human experience. The ‘I’ here is the animal still lurking behind the ripped work overalls, designer jeans, cheap suits and elegant finery in which we cloak ourselves.”
Nilsson has received Lifetime Achievement awards from the Fargo International Film Festival, the St. Louis International Film Festival, the Kansas City Filmmaker’s Jubilee, the Sophia Award from the Syracuse International Film Festival, the Master’s Award from the Golden Apricot Film Festival, Armenia, a Filmmaker of the Year Award from the Silver Lake Film Festival, the Milley Award from the city of Mill Valley. Retrospectives of his work have taken place in Syracuse, Mill Valley, Hong Kong, New Dehli, the Moscow International Film Festival and the Love is Folly Film Festival in Varna, Bulgaria, where he won the Golden Aphrodite Award for accomplishment in the Cinema.
About the Sundance Collection at UCLA
A joint effort between the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Collection at UCLA was established in 1997 in order to provide long-term access to independent film production. With support from the Ahmanson Foundation, the Sundance Collection at UCLA is one part of a multi-faceted plan within the Archive for preserving, studying and exhibiting independent cinema.
About UCLA Film & Television Archive
UCLA Film & Television Archive is the second largest moving image archive in the United States after the Library of Congress, and the world’s largest university-based media archive.
IndieCollect, a project of the non-profit organization Icon & Idiom, Inc.. (LII), documents and preserves for posterity the work of American independent filmmakers.