Rob Nilsson is an independent director, based in San Francisco. Nilsson and co-director John Hanson won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for Northern Lights (1978) and Nilsson won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Heat and Sunlight (1987). He is the first American film director to have won both awards.
In 2010, The Anthology Film Archive featured a retrospective of Nilsson’s work with Cine Manifest, a film collective he co-founded in San Francisco during the 1970’s. Works screened included Northern Lights (1978) and Signal 7 (1986). He is the director/writer of Arid Cut, which is completed and set to be released, which is produced by Jeffrey Gliwa.
He is the creator of the Direct Action style of digital filmmaking taught in the Tenderloin Group Actor’s Ensemble, San Francisco and featured in workshops conducted around the world. Nilsson is a pioneer in the techniques of video to film transfer which led to today’s digital revolution. In 1985, Signal 7 (1986) was the first small-format video feature to be blown up to film and distributed around the world. Chalk (1996), his first feature with the Tenderloin Action Group (later the Tenderloin Group), a San Francisco inner city acting workshop, was featured in the Locarno and Toronto film festivals. It was voted one of the top films of the year by the Village Voice.
The 9 @ Night film series, nine feature films sharing characters and circumstance with dialogue improvised by the Players, received the San Francisco Film Critic’s Circle Marlon Riggs Award for courage and innovation in cinema in 2008. Seven of Nilsson’s 9 @ Night film series, nine Direct Action digital features cast from the Group, Stroke (2000), Singing (2000), Scheme C6 (2001) and Need (2005), Pan (2006), Used (2007) and Go Together (2007) had their World Premieres at the Mill Valley International Film Festival. Attitude (2003) had its World Premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2003 and Noise (2002) at the Virginia FF, also in 2003. The World Premiere marathon screening of all 9 feature films took place at the Harvard Film Archive in 2007.
In collaboration with studio Malaparte in Japan, Nilsson completed a Direct Action digital feature film shot on Sagi Island off the coast of Hiroshima. Winter Oranges had its world premiere in 2000 at the Fukuoka Film Archives in Fukuoka and its US Premiere at the Mill Valley International Film Festival in 2000. In 2000, Nilsson shot another Direct Action digital feature (Samt) in Jordan, working with a cast of young Jordanians assembled by Zenid, a Jordanian institute for social development. Samt had its world premiere at the Mill Valley International Film Festival in 2004.
In 2003 Nilsson, in conjunction with Resfest South Africa, shot Frank Dead Souls, a Direct Action digital feature shot in Cape Town locations with a cast selected from town and township. In 2005 the Pacific Film Archive hosted the World Premiere of Security, a Direct Action feature film produced during a Nilsson residency at the University of California, Berkeley. Security won the Audience Award at the Green Cine Internet Film Festival. In 2006 the Kansas City Filmmaker’s Jubilee presented Opening, a Direct Action feature sponsored and produced in Kansas City by the festival, as its Opening Night film.
Nilsson has directed A Town Has Turned to Dust (1998), a feature film for the USA Channel, from a script by Rod Serling. Presque Isle (2008), a narrative feature shot on locations in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Northern Wisconsin premiered at the Mill Valley FF in 2007. Nilsson directed screen legend Stacy Keach in Imbued (2009) in 2009, which premiered at the Mill Valley International Film Festival. With Citizen Cinema, he continues to create and direct films in the Direct Action improvisational style he pioneered. Nilsson completed Sand (2010), The Steppes (2011), Maelstrom (2012), Collapse, (2013), A Leap to Take, (2013) and A Bridge to a Border (2014). He also created a feature documentary, What Happened Here (2013) a road movie, personal essay on the life of Leon Trotsky.
Nilsson’s film criticism has been featured on Ifilm and the Adobe Motion Channel and in a regular editorial column in RES, once the world’s leading magazine on digital filmmaking. Nilsson received a Rockefeller Artist’s Grant in 2002. Retrospectives of Nilsson’s work have taken place at the Pacific Film Archives, Berkeley, Chicago Institute of Art, Resfest, Seoul, Korea, Digital Talkies Festival, New Dehli, India, MOV Festival and Cinemanila, Manila, Philippines, Hong Kong IFF, and the Kansas City Filmmaker’s Jubilee. He had recent retrospectives at the Yerevan International Film Festival in Armenia, the Moscow International Film Festival, and the Love is Folly Film Festival, Varna, Bulgaria.
Recent awards include the Ted M. Larson Award for “outstanding contributions to the film industry” from the Fargo International Film Festival, the Indie Pioneer Award from the Kansas City Filmmaker’s Jubilee, a Filmmaker of the Year award from the Silver Lake Film Festival, Los Angeles, the Milley Award from the city of Mill Valley for achievement in the Arts, the Filmmaker’s Award from the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Master’s Award from the Golden Apricot International Film Festival, Armenia, the Golden Aphrodite from the Love is Folly Film Festival, Bulgaria and the Sophia Lifetime Achievement Award from the Syracuse International Film Festival. His book of poetry, From a Refugee of Tristan Da Cunha was released in 2007 and is available at Authorhouse.com and Wild Surmise, A Dissident View, his book about the cinema was released in 2013 and is available on Amazon and Authorhouse.com. Nilsson is also an artist with an extensive body of work.