Lena Dunham’s journey from conceptual college YouTube oversharer to America’s next great comedic hope has been a remarkably quick one — after the release of her second film, Tiny Furniture, in 2010, the then-24-year-old filmmaker and actress became one of the most sought-after voices in entertainment. Her Judd Apatow-backed HBO series, Girls, debuts April 15th, and this week marked Tiny Furniture‘s Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up some other great directors you should know, all of them under 35 years old. Meet a whole new generation of auteurs after the jump.
An NYU film school alum, Sean Durkin made a name for himself at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the Dramatic Directing Award for his debut feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene. A dark psychological thriller about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes, traumatized, from a cult, the film introduces a confident writer-director capable of telling a vivid and unusual story on a tight (under $1 million) budget.
At a time when many mainstream horror films are straight-up torture porn, Ti West harkens back to the ’70s and ’80s golden age of low-budget thrills and chills. The 31-year-old director already has a handful of features under his belt, but our favorite is 2009’s haunted-house flick, House of the Devil, which finds a college-age babysitter at the mercy of some local Satan worshipers. West’s latest, The Innkeepers, is in theaters now.
Another stunning Sundance 2011 premiere, Dee Rees’ first feature, Pariah, has won critical praise for its rare and sensitive depiction of a 17-year-old African-American lesbian. Boasting Spike Lee as an executive producer and mentor, Rees is scooping up awards and nominations left and right, and seems well on her way to a successful career. In fact, she’s already at work on an HBO series starring Viola Davis and a thriller about a woman in the midst of a midlife crisis.
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Mike Cahill, who served as an editor on the 2005 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, came into his own as the writer-director of last year’s Another Earth. A showcase for Cahill’s unabashed fascination with astronomy, the movie is a strange combination of romance and sci-fi, following a teenage science prodigy who is so taken with the story of a recently discovered “mirror Earth” that, in a moment of distraction, she causes a deadly car crash. We know it’s unlikely that there would be two great films in the same year about a mysterious new planet hurtling through space, but trust us — this one’s also worth watching, and so is its director.
Also a writer and teacher, the unconventionally educated filmmaker Astra Taylor makes movies about contemporary philosophy. Her 2005 debut, Zizek!, lovingly profiles the eccentric yet magnetic Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst, and critic Slavoj Žižek; its 2008 follow-up, Examined Life, finds a range of superstar thinkers — including Cornel West, Judith Butler, Peter Singer, and Martha Nussbaum, along with Žižek — walking through cities as they discuss the intersection between their theories and real life. Light viewing it’s not, but Taylor’s films certainly add a new dimension to all that postmodern philosophy you learned in college.
There is about a 50/50 chance that anyone you know in Baltimore has been in one of Matt Porterfield’s films — and that’s no accident, because the city and its inhabitants play an essential role in his work. Both of the two features he’s made, 2006’s Hamilton and 2010’s Putty Hill, are named after local neighborhoods and tell subtle, low-budget, and lightly experimental stories about the people who live in them. While each is worth checking out, we recommend starting with Putty Hill, an absorbing, mockumentary-style movie about the impact of a young man’s death on his family, friends, and acquaintances. As impressive as the film itself is the fact that it came about accidentally — Porterfield had scripted a feature called Metal Gods, but his financing fell through, and Putty Hill (which cost only $40,000 to make and was partially funded through Kickstarter) rose from its ashes.
A woman of many talents, Sarah Polley has been acting since she was a child in the mid-1980s — Terry Gilliam fans will remember her from The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen, while Anne of Green Gables lovers may have first encountered her as Sara Stanley on the early-’90s TV series Road to Avonlea. Also known as a singer and screenwriter, Polley made her name as a director with the acclaimed 2006 drama Away from Her, based on an Alice Munro story about a woman with Alzheimer’s who moves into a nursing home, literally forgets about her husband, and throws herself into a relationship with a fellow resident. Her newest film, Take This Waltz, a comedy-drama starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, debuted a few months ago at the Toronto Film Festival and has already received some promising reviews.
We confess that we weren’t originally thrilled to hear about Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation. Hadn’t the book already found on-screen perfection when Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine played Rochester and Jane back in 1943? Well, Fukunaga proved us wrong with his beautiful, understated take on Charlotte Brontë’s classic; the film looked gorgeous, the adaptation was faithful but fresh, and Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender were perfectly cast. The filmmaker’s independent debut feature, 2009’s Sin Nombre, takes on a very different topic — gangs and illegal immigration in Mexico — with equal success.
Joe and Kris Swanberg
One of the founding members of what has — annoyingly — come to be known as the mumblecore movement, writer-director-actor Joe Swanberg has been wildly prolific since releasing his first feature, Kissing on the Mouth, in 2005. His low-budget, realist dramas dissect the friendships, romances, and ambitions of young adults, using remarkably naturalistic dialogue and fearlessly blunt sex scenes to reveal the small, universal truths of 20-something life. Although she hasn’t directed nearly as many films as her husband (who made four features in 2011), Swanberg’s wife Kris, who has collaborated on many of his projects, is also a filmmaker and actor — her debut feature, the spectacularly titled It was great, but I was ready to come home (trailer above) was a hit on the festival circuit.