Spirit Awards – John Cassavetes Award Nominees


The Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award: Presented by Film Independent to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000.

The Spirit Awards are my favorite awards show. The drinking. The jokes. The big celebs mingling with rising indie talent. The only downside is the spoilers, the show is taped so if you are on Twitter it is hard to avoid knowing the winners before it airs. (correction: this year the broadcast will air live 5p EST and repeat at 10p EST)

The show does struggle a bit with how to qualify an independent film, which is determined by budget, so the “larger” indies usually overshadow the smaller films.

The most exciting award during the telecast is the John Cassavetes award. Naming it after John says it all, lower budget films that embody the true essence of independent filmmaking.

Last year I was pleasantly shocked when a little film called This is Martin Bonner took the award. I know a few people involved with the film and read an early draft of the script. To see that film go from crowdfunding a low budget, to production, to Sundance, to win this award was truly the scenario that we all dream about when launching a new film project.

This year there are five nominees: Blue Ruin, It Felt Like Love, Land Ho!, Man From Reno and Test.

I have seen the first three and I will be ecstatic if one of them wins the award. In 2012, the only nominee I was not aware of, Middle of Nowhere, won the award. The film’s director is Ava DuVernay who of course went on to make Selma, so I will need to catch-up on Man From Reno and Test to see what I’m missing.


Three Nominees I Love:

Blue Ruin directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Produced by Richard Peete, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani

Summary: Dwight Evans is a mysterious outsider whose quiet life on the margins is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Blue Ruin Dwight_Bloody_Radius

Blue Ruin directed by Jeremy Saulnier


It Felt Like Love directed by Eliza Hitman

Produced by Shrihari Sathe and Laura Wagner

Summary: Lila, a fourteen year old spending a hot summer in a blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood far removed from the bustling city. Awkward, lonely, and often playing the third wheel, Lila is determined to emulate the sexual exploits of her more experienced best friend. She fixates on Sammy, a tough older guy, when she hears that “he’ll sleep with anyone.” Deluded in her romantic pursuit, Lila tries desperately to insert herself into Sammy’s gritty world, but in doing so she puts herself into a dangerously vulnerable situation.


It Felt Like Love directed by Eliza Hitman


Land Ho! directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz

Produced by Christina Jennings, Mynette Louie and Sara Murphy

Summary: Feeling disenchanted with life after retirement, Mitch, a brassy former surgeon, convinces mild-mannered Colin, his ex-brother-in-law, to holiday with him in Iceland. The pair set off through Reykjavik ice bars, trendy spas, and adventurous restaurants in an attempt to reclaim their youth, but they discover that you can’t escape yourself, no matter how far you travel. Land Ho! is a bawdy road-trip comedy and a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship. Iceland’s vast and haunting landscapes—moss-coated cliffs, fog-shrouded mountains, geothermal pools, and otherworldly Northern Lights—form a primordial Eden and the perfect backdrop for Mitch and Colin’s adventures.


Land Ho! directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz


UPDATE: Congratulations to the winner Land Ho! by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz

Previous Winners: This is Martin Bonner (2013), Middle of Nowhere (2012), Pariah (2011), Daddy Longlegs (2010), Humpday (2009), In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2008), August Evening (2007), Quinceanera (2006), Conventioneers (2005), Mean Creek (2004), The Station Agent (2003), Personal Velocity (2002), Jackpot (2001), Chuck & Buck (2000), The Blair Witch Project (1999)


About Author

Independent Film Producer. Host of the 'Indie Film Picks' podcast. Board President of Indie Memphis film festival. Director of Development at New School Media, Inc.

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