Still from The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

Two Films by Columbia Filmmakers Nominated for 2020 Independent Spirit Awards

BY Gina Hackett, November 26, 2019

Two films by Columbia filmmakers were nominated for the 35th annual Independent Spirit Awards last week.


Still from Wild Nights with Emily. Image courtesy of SxSW.

Wild Nights with Emily, written & directed by alumna and faculty member Madeleine Olnek ’08 and produced by alumnus Max Rifkind-Barron ’18, was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award. The Cassavetes Award is awarded to the best feature film made for under $500,000.


The film, which stars Molly Shannon and Amy Seimetz, also took home the top prize at the 2017 Champs-Elysées Film Festival. Following this win, the film screened at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.


Inspired by studies of Emily Dickinson’s poems, which have revealed redacted references to a lover, Wild Nights with Emily depicts the poet’s tawdry, irreverent side, particularly her imagined romantic relationship with her brother’s wife.


The film is Olnek’s third film, following her 2011 feature Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same and her 2014 offbeat comedy The Foxy Merkins, both of which played at Sundance Film Festival.


“This is an irreverent film, but its lightness is meaningful,” wrote The New York Times. “With each silly flourish, Olnek offers joy and companionship to a figure whose history was more conveniently presented to generations of readers as solitary.”


The Last Black Man in San Francisco, co-written by alumnus Rob Richert ’13 and produced by alumnus Dede Gardner ’06, was nominated for the Spirit Award for Best First Feature. 


The film depicts the true story of Jimmie Fails’ mission to reclaim the Victorian house his grandfather built in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco.


Joe Talbot, the film’s director & co-writer, was also nominated for the Someone to Watch Award, and actor Jonathan Majors was nominated for Best Supporting Male Actor, winning the film a total of three Spirit Award nominations.


These nominations come on the heels of a long awards sweep for The Last Black Man in San Francisco. In October, the film was nominated for three Gotham Awards, including Best Screenplay. In February, the film took home the Directing Award and the Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration in the US Dramatic section at Sundance Film Festival.


“The astonishing Last Black Man in San Francisco is about having little in a grab-what-you-can world,” wrote The New York Times. “The movie has a cascade of images and ideas, reference points and glimpses of everyday beauty that flow and swirl and, over time, gather tremendous force.”


For 35 years, the Spirit Awards have been the primary fundraiser for Film Independent’s year-round programs, which “cultivate the careers of emerging filmmakers and promote diversity and inclusion in the industry,” according to Film Independent’s website.

The 2020 award winners, which are selected by Film Independent members, will be announced at the Spirit Awards on February 8, 2020 in Santa Monica.