Independent, San Francisco-based filmmaker whose debut feature, "Northern Lights" (1979), grew out of a series of documentaries he had made for left-wing film cooperative Cine Manifest. A gritty period drama about Norwegian farmers in pre-WWI Dakota, "Northern Lights" won the Camera D'Or at Cannes in 1979 and the American Film Festival Award the following year. Nilsson went on to develop an improvisational filmmaking style, influenced by the techniques of cinema verite and facilitated by modern video equipment, which he has dubbed "direct action cinema." His films in this mode include "Signal 7" (1983), which follows a day in the life of San Francisco cabbies, and "On the Edge" (1985), starring Bruce Dern. Nilsson played his first leading film role in "Heat and Sunlight" (1987), which he also wrote and directed.