Rob Nilsson is a San Francisco writer, actor, director, painter and poet whose feature film Northern Lights won the Camera d’Or at Cannes (1979) and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Heat and Sunlight (1988). He is the first American film director to have won both awards. He is also the creator of the Direct Action style of digital filmmaking originally taught in the Tenderloin yGroup Actor’s Ensemble, San Francisco, and now the Citizen Cinema Player’s Ensemble, Berkeley, California and featured in workshops conducted around the world. Chalk, his first feature with the Tenderloin Action Group, (later the Tenderloin yGroup), a San Francisco inner city acting workshop, was featured in the Locarno and Toronto film festivals and played in theatres around the country in 2000. It was voted one of the top films of the year by the Village Voice and received critical acclaim in theatrical runs in several US cities.
His 9 Night Film Cycle is a cinematic epic of nine feature films about 40-50 fictional characters living on the rough edges of American society.
Fourteen and a half hours of film produced over the course of fourteen years, each film takes a unique aesthetic approach to its subject, and all nine films depict a world of the homeless recently homeless, and inner city residents, played by workshop members and local actors. The 9 Night Film Cycle created with the yGroup won the 2008 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Marlon Riggs Award for Courage and Vision in Cinema.
Nilsson is a pioneer in the techniques of video to film transfer which led to today’s digital revolution. In 1985 SIGNAL 7 was the first small format video feature to be blown up to 35 mm. film and distributed around the world. In 2008 the Filmmaker’s Alliance of Los Angeles presented him with the first annual Nilsson Award for excellence in the cinema an award which Nilsson now curates. Harutyun Kachatryan from Armenia recieved the award in 2010 and Semih Kaplanoglu (winner Berlin Golden Bear 2010) in 2011. In the fall of 2013 a retrospective of his work was presented at the Love is Folly Film Festival in Varna, Bulgaria where Nilsson also received the Golden Aphrodite Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In recent years he has received Retrospectives and/or Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Fargo International Film Festival, the Pacific Film Archives, (Berkeley, CA), the Chicago Institute of Art, Resfest, (Seoul, Korea), Digital Talkies Festival, (New Dehli, India), .MOV Festival and Cinemanila, (Manila, Philippines), Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Silver Lake Film Festival, the Kansas City Filmmaker's Jubilee, the St. Louis International Film Festival, the Syracuse International Film Festival, the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (Yerevan, Armenia) and the Moscow International Film Festival.
Nilsson’s book of poetry From a Rom a Refugee of Tristan da Cunha was released in September 2007 and Wild Surmise, a book of opinions on cinema was released in 2013, both by Authorhouse.com. Nilsson has spent a lifetime in the Arts expressing his vision of “the way things seem to be.” His 30 odd feature films were made to honor the joys and sorrows of the everyday man and woman.
still frame from the movie Love twice (2015)
Cinema is the wizard’s wand, but not the magic. The magic is all around us at every moment.
The abundance of life in all its lights and darks, particles and waves, joys and sorrows contains the mysteries.
If we do it right, the wand touches and illuminates.
Then, for a moment, we can see.