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Victor Nunez

Film Director

1945 - Present
Inducted in 2008

Biography

Victor Nunez has been called a national treasure of regional independent filmmaking. A visionary writer, director, cinematographer and producer, Nunez's gripping work fuses character and place in portraits of his home state of Florida.

Nunez's best-known films include Gal Young ‘un (1979); A Flash of Green (1984); Ruby in Paradise (1993) and Ulee's Gold (1997).  His work has twice earned the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and three times Director's Fortnight Recognition at the Cannes Film Festival. Since 2007 he has been a professor in Florida State University's College of Motion Picture, Television, and Recording Arts.

Nunez was born in New York City to parents who were both artists.  In the 1940s, his mother graduated from New Orleans' Sophie Newcomb College with a degree in art before enrolling at New York's Columbia University.  There she met and soon married a Peruvian-born painter who had come to Columbia on a Fulbright Fellowship. In 1945, Victor was born, and eventually the family moved to Peru.

The marriage soon dissolved, and in 1948 Victor's mother relocated to Florida with her 3-year-old son and settled in Haines City, near Lakeland, where her mother had grown up.  She found work teaching art in the schools around nearby Plant City.  When her son reached the third grade, she moved them to Tallahassee.  Nunez thus grew up exposed to the Deep South culture of North Florida and its lush, natural environs.  He enjoyed childhood trips with his family to the beaches of the Panhandle–those of Panama City in particular. 

As a teenager, Nunez picked up his first movie camera–an old 8-millimenter given to him by his maternal grandfather.  After graduating high school, Nunez enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and soon discovered the world of Southern literature and foreign film.  He also discovered that he had a knack for filmmaking, completing two short films before graduating with a degree in art with an emphasis on film and sculpture.

From Antioch, Nunez enrolled in the film school at UCLA in pursuit of an MFA degree.  His thesis film–Charley Benson's Return to the Sea (1972)–signaled his affinity for Florida settings.  The film depicted a young Vietnam War veteran returning to his Gulf Coast family. 

After graduating, Nunez took a job teaching film at Florida State University and began work on his next film.  A Circle in the Fire, based on a Flannery O'Connor short story, debuted in 1975.   Nunez soon quit his teaching job to concentrate on his filmmaking career. 

In 1979, Nunez got his first national exposure with the release of Gal Young ‘Un, his first feature-length film. Nunez based the screenplay on a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings set in the 1930s.  He used genuine Florida backwater locations to shoot this compelling portrait of an independent woman who marries a charming scoundrel.  Underwritten by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fine Arts Council of Florida (now the Florida Council on Arts & Culture), the film got distributed widely and won praise from some of the top film critics of the day.

As is par for the life of independent filmmakers, Nunez constantly faced the challenges of finding adequate funding for his film projects.  Through a combination of grants (e.g. from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts), Nunez finished his next film in 1984.  Another Florida-based story, A Flash of Green (based on a novel by the same name by James D. MacDonald), featured the first big-name actors Nunez was able to hire, namely Ed Harris, Blair Brown and Richard Jordan. 

In 1993, Nunez completed work on Ruby in Paradise, starring Ashley Judd, a little-known TV actress at the time.  Inspired by his childhood days spent on the beaches of Panama City, Nunez wrote the screenplay for this character study of a young woman's search for her own identity after fleeing an abusive marriage in Tennessee.  The film depicts the dreary lives of sales clerks working in the souvenir shops of a Florida beach resort.  The film jointly won the 1993 Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival.  Roger Ebert, noted film critic, also picked it as one of his Top Ten Films for the year.  For her role as "Ruby," Judd won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.

But Nunez is best known for writing and directing Ulee's Gold, a film set in the honey-producing backwaters of the Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle.  Released in 1997, the film starred Peter Fonda who played a third-generation beekeeper beset with a mix of personal dilemmas.  Nunez got substantial financial backing from the film from his friend and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, 1991).  Released by Orion Pictures, the film was a nationwide hit, ultimately grossing more than $9 million (on a budget of $2.7 million).  For his performance, Fonda was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

In 2002, Nunez released Coastlines,shot largely in such Panhandle locales as Carrabelle, Eastpoint and St. George Island.  His most recent film is Spoken Word, released by Variance Films in 2010.  Set in New Mexico, the film, starring Kuno Becker and Rubén Blades, is the first feature-length film directed by Nunez that isn't set in Florida. 

Nunez rejoined the film faculty at FSU in 2007, this time as a professor within the university's College of Motion Picture and Recording Arts.  He lives in Tallahassee with Cynthia, his wife of 40-plus years.