Neal Jimenez, the American filmmaker whose credits include River’s Edge and The Waterdance, died at the age of 62. More than almost anyone, he embodied the true independent film spirit and helped fuel the movement right at the time it took liftoff in the public eye.
Born in Sacramento, Jimenez started out writing plays and making Super 8 films at a young age before contributing to publications including LA Weekly and California Magazine. While still a student at UCLA’s he penned River’s Edge at the age of 21. The film, about a group of Northern California teenagers forced to react when one member of their circle murders his girlfriend, became a crucible a for a group of up-and-coming younger actors, including Crispin Glover, Ione Skye Leitch, Keanu Reeves, and Daniel Roebuck. (Directed by Tim Hunter, the film was loosely based on the real-life case of Marcy Renee Conrad.) Jimenez’s screenplay won an Independent Spirit Award, and the film itself won Best Feature Film as well as a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Sundance Film Festival.
Jimenez, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, tapped into his own experience for an overlooked gem, The Waterdance, which started William Forsythe, Wesley Snipes, and Eric Stoltz, as three men addressing lives as paraplegics (Helen Hunt and Elizabeth Peña co-starred). In addition to writing, Jimenez also co-directed with Michael Steinberg; it won two Independent Spirit Awards – for Best First Feature and Best Screenplay.
Despite his disability, Jimenez managed to be a vital industry player – or perhaps it was because of them. His late 1980s – mid-1990s run of films brim with empathy as they deal with a wide variety of subject matter and cross genres. Jimenez also had writing credits on Where the River Runs Black, For the Boys, The Dark Wind, Sleep with Me, and Hideaway, and served as an in-demand script doctor, working on films like Outbreak. He was also commissioned to write scripts for the likes of Atom Egoyan, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Wolfgang Petersen, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and more.
Jimenez’s films are definitely worth seeking out. In fact, his own life might make for a great movie as well one day.