John Cassavetes, an accomplished actor, director and screenwriter, is considered by many to be the spiritual father of American independent filmmaking. At a time when Hollywood was pre-occupied with the notion of the impressionist director, Cassavetes went in the opposite direction and created films that felt closer to real life in both style and execution.
Cassavetes’ approach to performance, both his own and the actors under his direction gave the impression of improvisation due to its spontaneous appearance. When serving as the director, Cassavetes favored hand-held shooting and general lighting so that his actors could move more freely and perform on screen in a manner that was more genuine than something perfectly rehearsed. As a producer, Cassavetes went to great lengths to preserve the integrity of his original vision, even mortgaging his own home to finance his films rather than risk interference from any investors.
In 2000, 11 years after John Cassavetes passed away, Film Independent introduced an award named after the filmmaker which is given to a movie made for a budget under $500,000 and that mirrors the principals that Cassavetes’ work embodies.
The films that have won the John Cassavetes Award embrace new approaches to film making and at the same time elevate story telling to the next level. From the unconventional narrative built around “fictionally found” video camera footage in “The Blair Witch Project,” to the improvisational comedy of two straight men trying to make an amateur gay erotic film in “Humpday,” the core values of John Cassavetes’ approach to the medium remain alive and well.
As the Spirit Awards begins a new decade of honoring the filmmakers that continue to pioneer new avenues with limited resources, join us for a look back at the 11 films that have achieved this honor.
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