Neil Jimenez, a screenwriter and filmmaker whose credits include “River’s Edge” and “The Waterdance,” died Dec. 11 of cardiac arrest in Central Coast, Calif. He was 62 years old. His works have been favorites on the awards circuit, attracting wins in screenwriting categories at events such as the Independent Spirit Awards and the Sundance Film Festival.
Jimenez wrote and co-directed “The Waterdance” with director Michael Steinberg, and in addition to the recognition the film received on the awards circuit in 1993, the autobiographical film was included in the book “The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.” ” He shared writing credits on five other films: “Where the River Runs Black,” “For the Boys,” “The Dark Wind,” “Sleep With Me” and “Hideaway.”
For more than a decade, he was a Hollywood script-doctor, commissioned to write scripts for Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Wolfgang Peterson, Atom Igoan, Robert Redford, Madonna, Tom Hanks and many others.
“Her writing voice is seductive, powerful and completely unique,” Steinberg said. “Like a complex minor chord with a range that can go in any direction. Dark, funny, romantic, political, playful, imaginative, poetic. In the 40 years since I met Neil, I’ve worked with dozens of big names and huge talents. But the truth is, genius-level artists are only a handful. Jimenez, like Tarantino and The Farrelly Brothers, had a voice powerful enough to bend cinema.
Jimenez was born in Sacramento, California to Joe and Marcelle Jimenez, writing plays and producing Super 8 films from an early age. He began writing professionally at age 17, landing assignments for “LA Weekly” and “California Magazine” while majoring in English at Santa Clara University. At age 21, he transferred to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, where he wrote “River’s Edge” while in film class.
“My brother had a passion for writing and creating,” said his sister Elizabeth Rathzen. “The clack of typing echoes through his bedroom walls every day. His drawers were filled with typed pages and journals filled with his words and ink doodles. He wrote then because he had, he needed and he wanted. I always imagined walking into a bookstore and looking at the books my brother had written. Instead it was a video store and movies.”
“As far back as I can remember, my brother would make short movies on Super 8 with his friends,” Rathzen continued. “He spent hours cutting and splicing the film together. He seemed to know how he wanted the film to look. Neil had a simple wit and great intellect. He enjoyed movies, books and music and wanted others to enjoy these things too.”
The release of “River’s Edge” in 1987 put Jiménez on the map as a notable screenwriter, whose dark themes and tone influenced indie films and music throughout the following decade, exemplified by examples such as the 1991 Nirvana album “Nevermind”.
At the age of 24, Jimenez went on a camping trip with friends and had a midnight hike that changed the course of his life and resulted in him becoming wheelchair bound. Tony Garnett, a BBC movie producer and director, picked up a script by Jimenez and arranged a development deal for Warner Brothers after hearing about his accident. Jimenez was tapped to write a screenplay about his five-month spinal rehabilitation at Rancho Los Amigos — the result was “The Waterdance.”
“Only a few people know that Neil carried a real level of cinematic vision in him, because his best scripts were never made,” Steinberg said. “He and I had a deep connection from the moment we met at UCLA Film School in 1982. We liked the same writers, movies, music. He acted in my student film and we started collaborating on several projects that we wanted to co-direct.”
Jimenez is survived by his sisters Kathleen and Elizabeth.