25 Emerging Filmmakers To Watch

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In a medium inundated with remakes and reboots, it’s independent cinema that continues to inject hope into our lives. More specifically, it’s the swath of young, subversive artists in this industry that seem to keep the wheels spinning and the lights on. That’s why, in an effort to highlight these ingenious artists, we’ve created this list of 25 emerging filmmakers to keep an eye out for. The diversity and skill of this list indicates that we’re in no shortage of unique voices.

Moreover, the 25 filmmakers below prove that a singular voice can originate from anywhere. From Brooklyn to Saudi Arabia, these artists hail from all around the world, each having managed to create a piece of cinema (in some cases multiple pieces of cinema) that have spoken to our writers here on Movie Mezzanine.

The only qualification to being classified as an “up and coming” filmmaker is that he/she could only have directed a maximum of three featured length films (note: exceptions were made for people whose fourth film has not received distribution yet).

We hope you enjoy the following.

 Andrea Arnold

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Age: 53

Hometown: Dartford, United Kingdom 

Filmography: Red Road (2006), Fish Tank (2009) and Wuthering Heights (2011). 

Upcoming Project: American Honey (2015)

With just three feature films under her belt, Andrea Arnold has begun to establish an authorial voice that doesn’t feel like anything else in the indie film scene or the rest of contemporary British cinema. Like many indie filmmakers, her stories tend to be about people who are trapped by their environment, social status, or physical limitations, but she further envelops the viewer in her prisons with a truly intelligent use of the frame. The relationship between the spaces of the environment and the characters is always felt and reflected upon in her work. This was first experimented on with her debut feature, the criminally underseen Red Road, which followed a woman who works as a surveillance camera operator that one day spots a man from her past. As she examines him through the lens of the camera, we become the voyeurs of her own life. It wasn’t until her second film Fish Tank, one of the ten best films of the last decade, that she brought us into the life of a rebellious teenager through a 4:3 aspect ratio, the very edges of the frame closing in on her characters. And while her third feature, an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights,didn’t quite reach Fish Tank‘s heights, it was Arnold’s most formally daring, as she employed all of the modern sensibilities she honed with her first two works, including her use of 4:3, into a period piece set in the mid 1800s. Yet for all of Arnold’s stylistic aplomb, she also manages to craft such lovingly detailed, human characters that never leave your memory. One can only imagine what else Arnold could accomplish as her directing only sharpens. For now, I await what she does next with bated breath. – Christopher Runyon

John Michael McDonagh

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Age: Unknown

Hometown: London, England

Filmography: The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2014)

Upcoming Project: TBA

Is there a more whimsical young Irish filmmaker than John Michael McDonagh? His subjects, drug dealers in The Guard, death threats against a priest in his upcoming Calvary, are two things: heavy, and secondary. The real action belongs to the words, that distinctive clip-clopping rhythm of banter between central characters that McDonagh writes with such aplomb. Screenwriter first, director second, McDonagh brings a touch of old-fashioned screwball to the genres he tries on for size. They all seem to fit. The Guard finds McDonagh riffing on the buddy cop film, but it’s more O Brother, Where Art Thou? than Lethal Weapon. Calvary finds McDonagh in a small-town mystery of the kitchen-sink variety, with no less pith but a good helping of sincerity. In our era of self-aware humor, it’s rare to find a strong writer so willing to make himself vulnerable onscreen. McDonagh is at once a filmmaker bursting onto the scene and a throwback to a golden era when the screenwriter was king. For this, and for singlehandedly making Brendan Gleeson into one of the business’s hottest leading men, he’s our nominee for the Most Quotable Cult Director of the next decade. – Katherine Kilkenny

Derek Cianfrance

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Age: 40

Origin: Lakewood, Colorado

Filmography: Brother Tied (1998), Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Upcoming Project: Metalhead (TBD)

Derek Cianfrance is actually a three-time feature director, but his first movie Brother Tied is so unobtainable (it played at festivals in 1998 but hasn’t seen the light of day since, the print now collecting dust in Cianfrance’s father’s basement) that we only have his second and third films, Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, to judge him by. But it’s hard to imagine that Brother Tied, made when Cianfrance was just 23 and considered an overly-stylised “scar” by the director, could possess the maturity of the work from the man since. Cianfrance’s 2010 picture, Blue Valentine, is a quintessential anti-romance, simultaneously charting the breakup and burgeoning romance of a couple, played with a painful honesty by both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. This movie and decades-spanning triptych The Place Beyond the Pines flaunt Cianfrance’s appetite for toying with time in cinema, as well as his handsome, electric lensing and expertise at directing actors, and though some say Cianfrance reached too far with Pines’ generational epic leanings, putting the director on trial for his ambition seems foolish. For Cianfrance’s films – the two that we have, anyway – operate on some constant high emotional frequency, intentionally aiming for and almost always hitting those poignant highs. That he sometimes misses is by the by. – Brogan Morris

Sarah Polley

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Age: 35

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

Filmography: Away from Her (2006), Take This Waltz (2011) and Stories We Tell (2012)

Upcoming Project: TBA

The fate of child actor’s is rarely as promising or as eloquent as it has been for Canadian actress/activist Sarah Polley, whose first feature films have all been delicate examinations of human relationships. Her debut as a filmmaker, 2006’s Away From Her gained Polley a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the Oscars, and was a heart-breaking look at a couple faced with Alzheimer’s disease. Her second feature, the highly underrated Take this Waltz, was her first completely original work, directing her own screenplay about a woman caught in a mess of infidelity.

Sarah Polley especially turned heads with her most recent film, a documentary that proved her talent and diversity as a filmmaker, Stories We Tell. A bold film that examines a sensitive aspect of her own family’s history, Polley created an extremely personal narrative that most filmmakers wouldn’t dare attempt. It takes not just guts, but talent and ferocity to achieve a vision that is extremely particular in its details, but still creates a universal message and urges viewers to take a look at their own familial truths. It is for these reasons that Sarah Polley is set to be one of the greatest filmmakers of her generation. Her deep understanding of emotional truths and flawed characters is unparallelled, both in her acting and her directing. She next will be taking on an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, and there may be no better director for the project. The fact that she is both Canadian and a woman is just the cherry on top. – Adriana Floridia

 Ryan Coogler

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Age: 27

Hometown: Oakland, California

Filmography: Fruitvale Station (2013)

Upcoming Project: Creed (TBA)

Not many directors get it quite as right on their first go-around as Ryan Coogler did with Fruitvale Station. It’s a stunning and intimate portrait of Oscar Grant, the young black man gunned down by BART police in 2009. Marvelously played by Michael B Jordan, the character is written with an honesty and complexity that makes the final moments of the film all the more affecting. Amidst movies like 12 Years A Slave and The Butler, Fruitvale Station served as a poignant reminder of present-day racism, an eerie and timely debut as the Trayvon Martin shooting case dominated the news. And now Coogler, at only 26, has earned a place as part of a new exciting wave of young black directors who are offering up vital, alternative narratives about the black experience. Up next, he’ll be reuniting with Jordan on a Rocky spin off focusing on Apollo Creed’s grandson, Creed. It’s an unexpected next move for Coogler, but if his first feature is any indication, an exciting one as well. – Zeba Blay

Nathan Silver 

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Age: 31

Hometown: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Filmography: The Blind (2009), Exit Elena (2012) and Soft in the Head (2013)

Upcoming Project: Uncertain Terms (2014) and Stinking Heaven (TBA)

There is a hyperactive hunger at the heart of New York filmmaker Nathan Silver’s work. His last two films, 2013’s Exit Elena and this year’s Soft in the Head, are both brisk sprints of familial and social dysfunction, but one gets the sense that these types of stories are happening all over, and with his next film, Uncertain Terms, already slated to premiere at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, it’s clear Silver is anxious to tell them. Shooting on a micro-budget (Head, a loose retelling of Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”, earned funding through a Kickstarter campaign), Silver encourages improvisation amongst his cast, a haphazard patchwork of both professional and non-professional actors, which, at times cathartically, extend to members of his family. The intensely collaborative nature lends slack to the course of the deceptively slight narrative, winding it through an atlas of undiscovered and often perilous forests. But while Silver’s explorative approach often breeds chaos, his grasp on it is slyly controlled, defiantly elevating himself above the scourge of the “white people problems” subgenre. His films probe deeper, expose more layers, and simmer before they scald. It’s pitch-perfect human cacophony. – Jesse Knight

Mia Hansen-Løve

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Age: 33

Hometown: Paris, France

Filmography: Tout est pardoneé (2007), Father of Children (2009) and Goodbye First Love (2011)

Upcoming Projects: Eden (2014)

Goodbye First Love is Mia Hansen-Løve’s third feature, but for many of us on this side of the Atlantic, it was our introduction to her. The film dealt with a subject inanely lauded in our culture, that of young love, in a manner that treated honestly the narrow, all-consuming nature of first love while also grappling with the ways that adults move on from its inevitable disappointments and heartbreak. As she filmed it, first love is not the standard to which all other relationships must be judged but the necessary rite of passage of disappointment and pain that one must endure to face the world. Hansen-Løve sets herself apart from the horde of stylistically similar teen films with her elegance, in the subtle cues that mark a leap forward in time, or the tacit displays of affection and arousal. Her latest, Eden, is about the electronic music scene of the ‘90s. I hope she does for music movies what she did for the teen film. – Jake Cole

Richard Ayoade

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Age: 36

Hometown: London, England

Filmography: Submarine (2010) and The Double (2013)

Upcoming Projects: TBA

Who would have anticipated that the droll star of such British comedies as The IT Crowd had such a soulful sensibility hidden within? Or that he’d be able to pull off such remarkably assured work from the first frames of his first film? Submarine is a movie about teenagers that looks and feels distinctly unlike whatever it is one probably thinks of when thinking of teen movies. It gets inside what it’s like to be odd, and not “odd” in a cute Hollywood way, but in an awkward, sometimes painfully real way. That interior style comes in handy with The Double, which swaps Submarine’s extensive first-person narration for the back-and-forth between a man and his doppelganger – or more accurately, two halves of the same man. And in both of his films to date, Ayoade and cinematographer Erik Wilson have crafted unforgettable visuals. Submarine looks like an improperly developed polaroid picture, The Double like an acid yellow distortion of the world from Brazil. Both films also manage to be quite funny while tackling more serious fare. There’s melancholy, heartache, and pubescent uncertainty in Submarine and terror and existential emptiness in The Double. Whether Ayoade chooses to adapt another novel or goes with something new for his next project, he’ll surely do it proud. – Dan Schindel

 Cary Fukunaga

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Age: 36

Hometown: Oakland, California

Filmography: Sin Nombre (2009), Jane Eyre (2011), “True Detective” (HBO Series, 2014)

Upcoming Projects: Beasts of No Nation (TBA) and It (TBA)

For eight weeks in January and March, many of us found ourselves mesmerized by True Detective, HBO’s southern gothic mystery series that confirmed that there was, indeed, a “McConaissance” going on. But besides the broody performances from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and the labyrinthine story by Nic Pizzolatto, what made the series work so well was its visual tone, crafted with deliberate skill by director Cary Fukunaga. Fukunaga, with a background in writing, directing and cinematography, has a style that is distinct in its subtlely. It’s an approach that’s just as evident in his first feature, Sin Nombre, a film that, like True Detective, focuses on two main characters on a harrowing journey – in this case, a pair of Latino migrants trying to cross the border. But what’s most fascinating about Fukunaga is the diversity of the projects he chooses. His second feature was a well-conceived adaptation of Jane Eyre, and his future projects (of which there seem to be dozens) include a biopic on French Revolution-era General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (the highest ranking person of color to serve in a European army), and adaptations of Stephen King’s It, and Beasts of No Nation with Idris Elba. – Zeba Blay

Amma Asante

Amma AsanteAge: 44

Hometown: London, England

Filmography: A Way of Life (2004) and Belle (2014)

Upcoming Projects: TBA

There’s a nine-year gap between the two films Amma Asante has directed to date, and on the surface they couldn’t be more dissimilar. A Way of Life is a gritty indie flick about ruthless people living on an awful Welsh council estate; Belle is a regal period drama with a plot styled after Jane Austen romances. But both films demonstrate an intense awareness of class, though the classes each examine are on opposite extremes of the privilege scale. Though even within the same class, there are varying levels of privilege, prejudice and perception. In Belle, it’s the source of struggle for a black bastard woman who is nonetheless of noble descent and independently wealthy. Asante was hailed as a breakthrough director after A Way of Life, but seemingly no level of acclaim can guarantee that a black woman can easily move upward in the film industry. With Belle, she’s again receiving loads of accolades, and hopefully the prestige will stick to her this time. – Dan Schindel

Kenneth Lonergan

kenneth-lonergan-margaretAge: 51

Hometown: New York City, New York

Filmography: You Can Count On Me (2000) and Margaret (2011)

Upcoming Projects: TBA

With only two films to his credit – You Can Count on Me and Margaret – Kenneth Lonergan has already established himself as one of the American cinema’s truly inspired authors, as well as one of its strongest auteurs. As for being an author: Margaret’s screenplay is world-class literature, an impressively of-its-moment bildungsroman that finds poetry in hiccups and stammers. And as for being an auteur, Lonergan proved his chops twice over via that same movie: the chopped-up 150-minute theatrical cut is as jagged and elusive as main character Lisa’s psyche, while the 180-minute extended cut uses classical needle drops and comparatively smooth transitions to elevate her plight into opera. Both versions manage to find the cinematic essence of his prose, at once elegant and cutting. That dichotomy comes alive in both Lonergan’s movies: Margaret and You Can Count On Me offer sensitive, humanistic fables that are defined by stark depictions of the tragedies that so often intrude on our collective condition. So consider Lonergan the elder statesman of this list. Many kids written about here could retire on Thursday and be forgotten about by Friday. Lonergan, though – he’s only an at up-and-comer by definition. He’s actually already arrived. – Jake Mulligan

Pablo Berger

pablo-berger_efe_foto960Age: 5o

Hometown: Bilbao, Spain

Filmography: Torremolinos 73 (2003) and Blancaneives (2012)

Upcoming Projects: TBA

Taking breaks between films the lengths of which would rival Kubrick, it took Pablo Berger nine years to release his follow-up to his 2003 feature debut, Torremolinos 73. Blancanieves was about as far away from that film as the ensuing time could possibly suggest. The former, a comedy about an encyclopedia salesman and his wife getting roped into the world of amateur pornography. The latter, a silent film adaptation of Snow White, transposing the characters and actions in the world of 1920s Spanish bullfighting. Far more than a pastiche or homage, Blancanieves lives and breathes the language of silent film, utilizing a minimum of intertitles and letting the framing, camera movement and, most importantly, faces tell its story. It took Berger those nine years to raise the funds for Blancanieves, in the ensuing time watching The Artist swoop in and steal the novelty of his conceit. Hopefully whatever he has yet to explore will not be so far off. – Scott Nye

Haifaa Al-Mansour

HaifaaAge: 39

Hometown: Saudi Arabia

Filmography: Women Without Shadows (2005) and Wadjda (2012)

Upcoming Projects: TBA

Imagine being a female filmmaker from a country in which women are not allowed to drive, vote, or be independent from male supervision. Not only is Saudi Arabia one of the few countries in the world where basic human rights are not applicable to women, but it is also a kingdom in which movie theaters are banned. Against all odds, Haifaa Al-Mansour has become a pioneer in the precarious, almost non-existent film industry of her country. Her latest work, Wadjda, is the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely inside the Saudi Kingdom, by the same token she is the first and only female filmmaker in the country, and the film itself became the first-ever Saudi Arabian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
With both Wadjda and her 2005 documentary Women Without Shadows, Al-Mansour has demonstrated her absolute commitment to using film as a platform to denounce the captive state in which Saudi women live. Criticized by many Islamic conservatives and equally praised by those who feel change is needed, the filmmaker is a pivotal presence in the cultural sphere of the Middle East. The international exposure she has obtained will surely only encourage her to keep on crafting films that serve both as delightful entertainment and as windows into crucial issues marked by gender inequality. – Carlos Aguilar

Jeff Nichols

Jeff NicholsAge: 35

Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas

Filmography: Shotgun Stories (2007), Take Shelter (2011) and Mud (2012)

Upcoming Projects: Midnight Special (2014)

Biblical stories given a naturalistic coat and transposed to the modern everyday have been the order of Jeff Nichols since his debut. Familial strife played out under a rural Middle-American sky in Nichols’ Shotgun Stories, setting the scene for the director’s half-decade of rich drama dipped in religious myth. Take Shelter, in which Nichols’ regular collaborator and his own De Niro, Michael Shannon, either loses his mind or receives visions from God, was a remarkable sophomore effort, bringing armageddon to contemporary Ohio farm country, but it’s Nichols’ latest work that best proves the man’s gift.

Nichols’ intentions are so well-realised in the coming-of-age movie Mud that the film takes hold in your mind and sticks there as if it were a memory of your own experience; it’s a film presenting a magical, sun-dappled dream of adolescence through relatably down-and-dirty realist means. It was billed perhaps most prominently as evidence for the continuing McConaissance, but each and every actor, from high-paycheck megastars (Reese Witherspoon) to newcomer child actors (star-in-the-making Tye Sheridan) to, yes, the man of the hour himself (Matthew McConaughey has never appeared more vulnerable than as the title’s hood-on-the-run), thrive under the tutelage of a director concerned with a casual reality, even when the circumstances touch upon the fantastical. – Brogan Morris

Sean Durkin

Sean DurkinAge: 32

Hometown: Victoria, Canada 

Filmography: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) 

Upcoming Project: Janis (TBA)

To instill fear into the mind of a viewer is no easy task; to do so through minimalism and ambiguity is even harder. Yet, Sean Durkin is one of the few filmmakers working today who recognizes that the most effective way to send chills down audiences’ spines is to offer no clear answers as to what they’re watching and merely hint at the possibility of their worst fears coming true. This is what makes his first and only feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene, such a brilliant exercise in psychological terror, and despite the fact that it’s neither a horror film nor much of a thriller, it generates a more foreboding sense of dread than a majority of the most recent entries in either of those genres. The film stars Elisabeth Olsen in an extraordinary, nuanced performance as Martha, who, after escaping from a sinister cult, attempts to re-assimilate herself into contemporary society by staying with her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her fiancé Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their lake house in New England, but Martha begins to worry that members of the abusive sect she managed to run away from are plotting to bring her back to their corrupt commune. By never fully clarifying whether what’s portrayed on screen is real or a figment of Martha’s imagination, Durkin places the spectator in her unnerving state of paranoia, thereby racketing up both parties’ anxieties in regards to being within the presence of the unknown. It’s a challenging and stunningly assured debut from a director who, if he continues down this path, could very well be the American successor to Michael Haneke, and at the very least, will certainly be one to keep an eye on within the world of independent film. – Charles Nash


  • http://www.reviewtheworld.com/ Brian (Review the World)

    Great list but Kelly Reichardt totally deserves a spot. Maybe throw Ti West a bone, too.

  • http://www.reviewtheworld.com/ Brian (Review the World)

    While I’m tossing out names Gaspar Noé should be on there, too. He’s got a new one out next year.

  • http://www.reviewtheworld.com/ Brian (Review the World)

    Chad Hartigan. His film This Is Martin Bonner was one of the most criminally underwatched gems of 2013. What a debut. And then there’s Matt Porterfield, too. Lots of great talent emerging.