Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature

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The Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature is one of the annual Independent Spirit Awards. It is usually given to the director (or directors) and producer (or producers). The "first feature" designation is applied to the director not the producer(s). Therefore, producers have been nominated multiple times.

In 2000, this category was split into two separate categories: one for films with budgets over $500,000 and a new category, the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award, which was restricted to films with budgets under $500,000. In 2001, films could be eligible regardless of their budget as long as it was feature film directorial debut.

Winners and nominees[edit]


Year Winner Director(s) Producer(s)
She's Gotta Have It Spike Lee
Belizaire the Cajun Glen Pitre Allan L. Durand
A Great Wall Peter Wang Shirley Sun
Hoosiers David Anspaugh John Daly, Carter DeHaven, Derek Gibson and Angelo Pizzo
True Stories David Byrne Gary Kurfirst
1987 Dirty Dancing Emile Ardolino Linda Gottlieb
Anna Yurek Bogayevicz Zanne Devine
Hollywood Shuffle Robert Townsend Carl Craig
Siesta Mary Lambert Gary Kurfirst
Waiting for the Moon Jill Godmilow Sandra Schulberg
1988 Mystic Pizza Donald Petrie Mark Levinson and Scott M. Rosenfelt
Border Radio Allison Anders, Dean Lent and Kurt Voss Marcus DeLeon
The Chocolate War Keith Gordon Jonathan D. Krane
The Prince of Pennsylvania Ron Nyswaner Jonathan D. Krane
The Wash Michael Toshiyuki Uno Calvin Skaggs
1989 Heathers Michael Lehmann Denise Di Novi
84 Charlie Mopic Patrick Sheane Duncan Michael Nolan
Powwow Highway Jonathan Wacks Jan Wieringa
Sidewalk Stories Charles Lane Howard M. Brickner
Talking to Strangers Rob Tregenza J.K. Eareckson


Year Winner Director(s) Producer(s)
1990 Metropolitan Whit Stillman
House Party Reginald Hudlin Warrington Hudlin
Lightning Over Braddock Tony Buba
The Natural History of Parking Lots Everett Lewis Aziz Ghazal
Twister Michael Almereyda Wieland Schulz-Keil [de]
1991 Straight Out of Brooklyn Matty Rich
Chameleon Street Wendell B. Harris Jr.
Poison Todd Haynes Christine Vachon
The Rapture Michael Tolkin Karen Koch, Nancy Tenenbaum and Nick Wechsler
Slacker Richard Linklater
1992 The Waterdance Neal Jimenez and Michael Steinberg Gale Anne Hurd, Marie Cantin and Guy Riedel
Laws of Gravity Nick Gomez Bob Gosse and Larry Meistrich
My New Gun Stacy Cochran Michael Flynn
Reservoir Dogs Quentin Tarantino Lawrence Bender
Swoon Tom Kalin Christine Vachon
1993 El Mariachi Robert Rodriguez Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo
American Heart Martin Bell Jeff Bridges and Rosilyn Heller
Combination Platter Tony Chan Tony Chan and Judy Moy
Mac John Turturro Brenda Goodman and Nancy Tenenbaum
Menace II Society Allen and Albert Hughes Darin Scott
1994 Spanking the Monkey David O. Russell Dean Silvers
Clean, Shaven Lodge Kerrigan
Clerks Kevin Smith Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier
I Like It Like That Darnell Martin Lane Janger
Suture David Siegel and Scott McGehee David Siegel, Scott McGehee, and Michele Petin
1995 The Brothers McMullen Edward Burns Dick Fisher
Kids Larry Clark Cary Woods
Little Odessa James Gray Paul Webster
Picture Bride Kayo Hatta Diane Mei Lin Mark and Lisa Onodera
River of Grass Kelly Reichardt Jesse Hartman
1996 Sling Blade Billy Bob Thornton David L. Bushell and Brandon Rosser
Big Night Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci Jonathan Filley
I Shot Andy Warhol Mary Harron Tom Kalin and Christine Vachon
Manny & Lo Lisa Krueger Marlen Hecht and Dean Silvers
Trees Lounge Steve Buscemi Chris Hanley and Brad Wyman
1997 Eve's Bayou Kasi Lemmons Caldecot Chubb and Samuel L. Jackson
The Bible and Gun Club Daniel J. Harris
Hard Eight Paul Thomas Anderson Robert Jones and John S. Lyons
In the Company of Men Neil LaBute Mark Archer and Stephen Pevner
Star Maps Miguel Arteta Matthew Greenfield
1998 The Opposite of Sex Don Roos David Kirkpatrick and Michael Besman
Buffalo '66 Vincent Gallo Chris Hanley
High Art Lisa Cholodenko Dolly Hall, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Susan A. Stover
π Darren Aronofsky Eric Watson
Slums of Beverly Hills Tamara Jenkins Michael Nozik and Stan Wlodkowski
1999 Being John Malkovich Spike Jonze Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern, Steve Golin and Vincent Landay
Boys Don't Cry Kimberly Peirce Jeffrey Sharp, John Hart, Eva Kolodner and Christine Vachon
Three Seasons Tony Bui Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente
Twin Falls Idaho Michael Polish Marshall Persinger, Rena Ronson and Steven J. Wolfe
Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl Joan Chen Joan Chen and Wai-Chung Chan


Beginning in 2000, nominees were restricted to film with budgets over $500,000. The Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award awarded first features that had budgets of less than $500,000.

Year Winner Director(s) Producer(s)
2000 You Can Count On Me Kenneth Lonergan John Hart, Jeffrey Sharp, Barbara De Fina and Larry Meistrich
Boiler Room Ben Younger Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd
Girlfight Karyn Kusama Maggie Renzi, Sarah Green and Martha Griffin
Love & Basketball Gina Prince-Bythewood Spike Lee and Sam Kitt
The Visit Jordan Walker-Pearlman
2001 In the Bedroom Todd Field Todd Field, Ross Katz, and Graham Leader
The Anniversary Party Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Believer Henry Bean Susan Hoffman and Christopher Roberts
Donnie Darko Richard Kelly Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, and Adam Fields
Ghost World Terry Zwigoff Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, and Russell Smith
2002 The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys Peter Care Jodie Foster, Meg LeFauve, Jay Shapiro, and Todd McFarlane
Interview with the Assassin Neil Burger Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Manito Eric Eason Jesse Scolaro and Allen Bain
Paid in Full Charles Stone III Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Brett Ratner, Azie Faison, and Steve Rifkind
Roger Dodger Dylan Kidd Dylan Kidd, Anne Chaisson, and Campbell Scott
2003 Monster Patty Jenkins Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson, Charlize Theron and Brad Wyman
Bomb the System Adam Bhala Lough Ben Rekhi and Sol Tryon
House of Sand and Fog Vadim Perelman Vadim Perelman and Michael London
Quattro Noza Joey Curtis Fredric King
Thirteen Catherine Hardwicke Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Michael London
2004 Garden State Zach Braff Pamela Abdy, Gary Gilbert, Dan Halsted and Richard Klubeck
Brother to Brother Rodney Evans Rodney Evans, Jim McKay, Isen Robbins and Aimee Schoof
Napoleon Dynamite Jared Hess Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel and Chris Wyatt
Saints and Soldiers Ryan Little Ryan Little and Adam Abel
The Woodsman Nicole Kassell Lee Daniels
2005 Crash Paul Haggis Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman, Don Cheadle, Bob Yari, Mark R. Harris and Bobby Moresco
Lackawanna Blues George C. Wolfe Halle Berry, Vince Cirrincione, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Nellie Nugiel and Shelby Stone
Me and You and Everyone We Know Miranda July Gina Kwon
Thumbsucker Mike Mills Anthony Bregman and Bob Stephenson
Transamerica Duncan Tucker Sebastian Dungan, Linda Moran and Rene Bastian
2006 Sweet Land Ali Selim Alan Cumming and James Bigham
Day Night Day Night Julia Loktev Melanie Judd and Jessica Levin
Man Push Cart Ramin Bahrani Pradip Ghosh and Bedford T. Bentley
The Motel Michael Kang Matthew Greenfield, Miguel Arteta, Gina Kwon and Karin Chien
Wristcutters: A Love Story Goran Dukić Adam Sherman, Chris Coen, Tatiana Kelly and Mikal P. Lazarev
2007 The Lookout Scott Frank Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Laurence Mark and Walter F. Parkes
2 Days in Paris Julie Delpy Christophe Mazodier and Thierry Potok
Great World of Sound Craig Zobel Craig Zobel, Melissa Palmer, David Gordon Green and Richard A. Wright
Rocket Science Jeffrey Blitz Effie Brown and Sean Welch
Vanaja Rajnesh Domalpalli Latha R. Domalapalli
2008 Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman Charlie Kaufman, Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze and Sidney Kimmel
Afterschool Antonio Campos T. Sean Durkin and Josh Mond
Medicine for Melancholy Barry Jenkins Justin Barber
Sangre de Mi Sangre Christopher Zalla Per Melita and Ben Odell
Sleep Dealer Alex Rivera Anthony Bregman
2009 Crazy Heart Scott Cooper Scott Cooper, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo and T-Bone Burnett
Easier with Practice Kyle Patrick Alvarez Cookie Carosella
The Messenger Oren Moverman Mark Gordon, Lawrence Inglee and Zach Miller
Paranormal Activity Oren Peli Oren Peli and Jason Blum
A Single Man Tom Ford Tom Ford, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano and Robert Salerno


Year Winner Director(s) Producer(s)
2010 Get Low Aaron Schneider Dean Zanuck and David Gundlach
Everything Strange and New Frazer Bradshaw Laura Techera Francia and A.D. Liano
The Last Exorcism Daniel Stamm Eric Newman, Eli Roth, Marc Abraham and Thomas A. Bliss
Night Catches Us Tanya Hamilton Ronald Simon, Sean Costello and Jason Orans
Tiny Furniture Lena Dunham Kyle Martin and Alicia Van Couvering
2011 Margin Call J. C. Chandor Joe Jenckes, Robert Ogden Barnum, Corey Moosa, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson and Zachary Quinto
Another Earth Mike Cahill Hunter Gray, Mike Cahill, Brit Marling and Nicholas Shumaker
In the Family Patrick Wang Patrick Wang, Andrew van den Houten and Robert Tonino
Martha Marcy May Marlene Sean Durkin Josh Mond, Antonio Campos, Chris Maybach and Patrick Cunningham
Natural Selection Robbie Pickering Brion Hambell and Paul Jensen
2012 The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith and John Malkovich
Fill the Void Rama Burshtein Assaf Amir
Gimme the Loot Adam Leon Natalie Difford, Dominic Buchanan and Jamund Washington
Safety Not Guaranteed Colin Trevorrow Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Stephanie Langhoff, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow
Sound of My Voice Zal Batmanglij Hans Ritter, Brit Marling and Shelley Surpin
2013 Fruitvale Station Ryan Coogler Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker
Blue Caprice Alexandre Moors Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O'Connell, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham
Concussion Stacie Passon Cliff Chenfeld, Anthony Cupo and Rose Troche
Una Noche Lucy Mulloy Daniel Mulloy, Lucy Mulloy, Maite Artieda and Sandy Perez Aguila
Wadjda Haifaa al-Mansour Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul
2014 Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Michel Litvak, Jake Gyllenhaal and David Lancaster
Dear White People Justin Simien Effie Brown, Ann Le, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Justin Simien and Lena Waithe
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Ana Lily Amirpour Justin Begnaud and Sina Sayyah
Obvious Child Gillian Robespierre Elisabeth Holm
She's Lost Control Anja Marquardt Anja Marquardt, Mollye Asher and Kiara C. Jones
2015 The Diary of a Teenage Girl Marielle Heller Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, and Madeline Samit
James White Josh Mond Max Born, Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Melody Roscher, and Eric Schultz
Manos Sucias Josef Kubota Wladyka Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes
Mediterranea Jonas Carpignano Jason Michael Berman, Chris Columbus, Jon Coplon, Christoph Daniel, Andrew Kortschak, John Lesher, Ryan Lough, Justin Nappi, Alain Peyrollaz, Gwyn Sannia, Marc Schmidheiny, Victor Shapiro, and Ryan Zacarias
Songs My Brother Taught Me Chloé Zhao Chloé Zhao, Mollye Asher, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Angela C. Lee, and Forest Whitaker
The Witch Robert Eggers Robert Eggers, Daniel Bekerman, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, and Rodrigo Teixeira
The Childhood of a Leader Brady Corbet Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Chris Coen, Ron Curtis, Helena Danielsson, Mona Fastvold, and István Major
The Fits Anna Rose Holmer Anna Rose Holmer and Lisa Kjerulff
Other People Chris Kelly Sam Bisbee, Adam Scott, and Naomi Scott
Swiss Army Man Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, Lauren Mann, Amanda Marshall, Eyal Rimmon, and Jonathan Wang
Ingrid Goes West Matt Spicer Jared Goldman, Adam Mirels, Robert Mirels, Aubrey Plaza, Tim White, and Trevor White
Columbus Kogonada Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Aaron Boyd, Giulia Caruso, Ki Jin Kim, Andrew Miano, and Chris Weitz
Menashe Joshua Z. Weinstein Yoni Brook, Traci Carlson, Daniel Finkelman, and Alex Lipschultz
Oh Lucy! Atsuko Hirayanagi Jessica Elbaum, Yukie Kito, and Han West
Patti Cake$ Geremy Jasper Chris Columbus, Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Noah Stahl, and Rodrigo Teixeira
2018 Sorry to Bother You Boots Riley Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, and Forest Whitaker
Hereditary Ari Aster Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, and Buddy Patrick
The Tale Jennifer Fox Jennifer Fox, Oren Moverman, Laura Rister, Mynette Louie, Simone Pero, Lawrence Inglee, Sol Bondy, Regina K. Scully, Lynda Weinman, and Reka Posta
We the Animals Jeremiah Zager Jeremy Yaches, Christina D. King, Andrew Goldman, and Paul Mezey
Wildlife Paul Dano Oren Moverman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Ann Ruark, Alex Saks, Andrew Duncan, and Paul Dano
Booksmart Olivia Wilde Megan Ellison, Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfield, Jessica Elbaum, Katie Silberman
The Climb Michael Angelo Covino Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin, and Noah Lang
Diane Kent Jones Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Caroline Kaplan, and Oren Moverman
The Last Black Man in San Francisco Joe Talbot Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Christina Oh
The Mustang Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre Alain Goldman
See You Yesterday Stefon Bristol Spike Lee


Year Nominees Director(s) Producer(s)
2020[6] Sound of Metal Darius Marder Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Bill Benz and Kathy Benz
The 40-Year-Old Version Radha Blank Lena Waithe, Jordan Fudge, Radha Blank, Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jennifer Semler and Rishi Rajani
I Carry You With Me Heidi Ewing Heidi Ewing, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Maire and Edher Campos
Miss Juneteenth Channing Godfrey Peoples Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Page and Neil Creque Williams
Nine Days Edson Oda Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Linder, Laura Tunstall and Datari Turner


  1. ^ "Spirit Awards: Year Of Film Independents". Los Angeles Times. 1987-03-30. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  2. ^ Spirit Awards: 'The Witch' Wins Best First Feature-Hollywood Reporter
  3. ^ ‘The Witch’ Wins 2017 Independent Spirit Award For Best First Feature-IndieWire
  4. ^ Spirit Awards: 'Ingrid Goes West' Wins Best First Feature-Hollywood Reporter
  5. ^ These Are Your 2019 Film Independent Spirit Award Nominees!-Film Independent
  6. ^ 2021 Independent Spirit Awards Winner's List|IndieWire

External links[edit]