Young American Bodies Director Joe Swanberg’s 5 Filmmakers to Watch


Joe Swanberg may be best known as the lo-fi filmmaker responsible for such features as Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends and, most recently, Alexander the Last. But, since 2006, he’s also been directing and c0-starring in’s addictive web series, Young American Bodies, which chronicles the romantic lives of a group of 20-something friends in Chicago.

While the show’s subject matter — marriage, infidelity, long-distance relationships — doesn’t differ greatly from what we’re used to seeing in more mainstream sex comedies, its style is pure Swanberg: spontaneous, vérité and, above all, authentic. In fact, those of us who happen to be in our 20s may find the resemblance between YAB and our own lives uncanny. And that’s no accident. As Swanberg says, “If we don’t represent ourselves in the media, no one else is going to.” Oh, and did we mention there’s full-frontal nudity, too?

Aside from being great entertainment, YAB has also featured in its cast a number of first-rate filmmakers, from Humpday director Lynn Shelton to Swanberg’s very own wife, Kris. Considering that so many of his associates have gone on to create their own critically acclaimed movies, we figure Swanberg must have a fantastic eye for emerging talent. So, in celebration of YAB‘s fourth season — which debuts today — we’ve asked him to clue us in about five new filmmakers who pique his interest.

1. Michael Langan: “He’s an animator living in Boston, and his films have won a lot of awards at festivals. He made a short called “Doxology” that played at SXSW in 2008, and he’s got a new film called “Dahlia” that’s currently playing festivals. He’s one of the most exciting animators working right now, using all sorts of different techniques: AfterEffects, real people, pixelation.”

2. Liz Toonkel: “She’s in the new season of Young American Bodies; she plays Ashley, a yoga student. Liz has a short called “Fashion Kills!” that’s playing at festivals. She’s at CalArts right now, getting her master’s in Scenic Design. All of the costumes and sets in her movie are really well thought out, which is not something you see very often in student films. And she shot it on Super 8, so it’s got this very old-school look. She seems open to trying weird things, which is something I’m always looking for in young filmmakers.”

3. Michael Vincent and Molly Donovan: “They have a new short called “The Grass Is Greener” that just started playing festivals. Michael works for Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix. But he and Molly are also making trippy, psychedelic Super 8 movies. “The Grass Is Greener” is really crazy — weird green screen stuff, weird music interludes. I dig the style. They’re working on their first feature now. People ought to keep their eye out for that.”

4. Ryan Trecartin: “He’s received a ton of attention from the art world and had pieces in the Whitney Biennial. But I feel like, in the film world, there hasn’t been nearly enough attention devoted to his work. He’s constantly working on stuff, and it’s this weird mishmash of and experimental video. A Family Finds Entertainment, which played at the Whitney, is the best coming-out movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a very personal work, hidden behind this crazy, flashy exterior. It’s a small idea, but done in a crazy, grandiose way. The projects he’s made since then are all great, too, and all have a very signature style, with weird sounds and animated .gifs.”

5. Amy Seimetz : “She acted in Alexander the Last, and she’s also in this new movie I’m doing, Silver Bullets. Lately, she’s received a lot of attention for acting, but I don’t think people realize she’s a producer, director, cinematographer and a lot of other things. She finished a feature called City on a Hill, which will be playing film festivals this coming year. She’s exciting because she’s combining traditional, narrative filmmaking with experimental, political propaganda. City on a Hill, in one sense, is a personal relationship movie hidden beneath this loud, soap-boxy film. You have all these revolutionary characters that all seem like different facets of Amy.”