And the John Cassavetes Award goes to… Life and Nothing More!

Antonio Méndez Esparza, director, and Pedro Hernández Santos, producer, of Life and Nothing More on stage during
their acceptance speech at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Photo
© Film Independent

Cheers were heard all around the tent on a beach in Santa Monica as the Cassavetes award-winner was called out! CFI Executive Director and Founder Mark Fishkin and CFI Releasing’s Jonathan Marlow were in attendance with producer Pedro Hernández Santos and writer/director Antonio Méndez Esparza accepting the award. The 33rd Film Independent Spirit Award’s Honorary Chair Ava DuVernay won the identical award five years earlier for her sophomore directorial effort, Middle of Nowhere.

Each year, the independent filmmaking community comes together the day prior to the Academy Awards to celebrate the Spirit Awards, a nod to the importance of independent voices in filmmaking. CFI Releasing’s latest release, Life and Nothing More, was nominated for two awards that afternoon: “Best Female Lead” for Regina Williams (in a field that included Frances McDormand, Salma Hayek, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, and Shibobu Terajima) and the John Cassavetes Award, presented to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. Previous winners of the award include Humpday (2009, dir. Lynn Shelton), Pariah (2011, dir. Dee Rees), and Station Agent (2003, dir. Tom McCarthy), an impressive pedigree indeed!

Photo © CFI Releasing

The U.S. Premiere of Life and Nothing More occurred at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival in October (following its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival a few weeks earlier). It was at MVFF that CFI Releasing began discussing the possibilities of acquiring the film. This emotional snapshot of race, class, and the bonds of family in contemporary America will be released later this year.

As British film critic Jonathan Romney wrote after its screening at the San Sebastian Film Festival (where it won the FIPRESCI Prize and the SIGNIS Award), “In the light of rising political and racial tension in the U.S. following Charlottesville, there could hardly be a more timely, urgently charged film on the festival circuit than Life and Nothing More.”

CFI Releasing is a national non-profit film distribution initiative enabling filmmakers and sales agents to collaborate with U.S. independent exhibitors, giving nationwide audiences access to quality independent films and promoting this work as a valuable artistic and educational medium conveying different visions, viewpoints and cultural perspectives.

When asked about the effect that making Life and Nothing More had on the cast and crew, writer/director Antonio Méndez Esparza reflects, “The film has changed our lives and understanding of the world around us and it has been a rewarding and touching journey. We hope it will change other people’s perspectives as well.”

Photo © CFI Releasing