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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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