Krisha Fairchild, "Krisha" (Actor)
Jay Dockendorf, "Naz and Maalik" (Writer/director)
Benjamin Dickinson, "Creative Control" (Writer/director/actor)
Eugene Kotlyarenko," A Wonderful Cloud" (Writer/director/actor)
Oona Laurence, "Lamb" & "The Grief of Others" (Actor)
Child actor Oona Laurence has already accomplished more than most twice her age. Still, we wager you’re not familiar with her name yet. That’s soon about to change. The actress is best known in theater circles for originating the role of Matilda in the Broadway hit musical of the same name. Her performance won her an honorary Tony award. Since netting the honor, Laurence shifted to film and hasn’t looked back. She appeared briefly opposite Sarah Silverman in the recent Sundance drama "I Smile Back" and was at SXSW this year with two projects, Ross Partridge’s well-received drama "Lamb" and Patrick Wang’s follow-up to his acclaimed "In the Family," "The Grief of Others." She equally impressed in both, which bodes well for her upcoming project: the Disney remake of "Pete’s Dragon," directed by David Lowery ("Ain’t Them Bodies Saints").
Jared Breeze, "The Boy" (Actor)
As nine-year-old emerging psychopath Ted Henley, Jared Breeze inhabits a familiar mold — the creepy kid found in scary movies ranging from "The Omen" to "Joshua" — but there’s nothing familiar about his ability to give the character a distinctly haunting aura. Director Craig Macneill’s debut follows Ted’s alienated childhood at a desert motel where his father has cut off most ties with the world, a decision that ultimately leads Ted to act out in terrifying ways. The young actor’s focused intensity never feels gimmicky. Instead, with his petite form and piercing eyes, he gives us one of the most unassuming movie monsters in ages. With that kind of ability, it’s clear that Breeze has a lot of potential to hold sway over audiences for years to come.
Ben Rosenfield and Taissa Farmiga, "6 Years" (Actors)
Director Hannah Fidell’s improvised follow-up to her debut feature "A Teacher" almost exclusively relies on the investment of its two leads. While they aren’t entirely fresh faces — Rosenfield has several episodes of "Boardwalk Empire" under his belt, while Farmiga appeared in the first season of "American Horror Story"—"6 Years" provides a fresh showcase for both actors. As a young couple coping with various relationship problems on the cusp of the eponymous anniversary, Rosenfield and Farmiga are equally adroit at conveying a deep, intimate connection with their characters and suggesting the process through which it has started to come apart at the seams. Both actors should now qualify for any projects involving extreme heartbreak currently looking for credible leads.
Joe Frank and Zachary Reed, "Sweaty Betty" (Directors)
It’s safe to say that nobody in the film world knew about filmmakers Joseph Frank and Zachary Reed before this year’s SXSW Film Festival. The co-directors’ debut feature, "Sweaty Betty," was made on the cheap and shot on location in Hyattsville, Maryland with a cast of locals playing embellished versions of themselves. The dueling plots, surrounding one man’s attempt to brand his pig as a Washington Redskins mascot and two teen parents who come into possession of a neighborhood dog, have a meandering quality on par with the subjects’ real lives. But that’s part of the unique charm in this hybrid narrative, for which the first-timers drew inspiration from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Gummo" alike. Complimented by a few revealing monologues and musical montages, "Sweaty Betty" is consistently engaging and unpredictable. Despite its playful, lighthearted tone, the movie features a unique formalism and storytelling ambition that taps into the wonders of everyday existence with poetic finesse. Its grab bag of surprises bodes well for whatever the directors do next.
Morgan Krantz, "Babysitter" (Writer/director)
The festival circuit plays host to countless coming-of-age dramas each year. Morgan Krantz’s directorial debut fits squarely into that category. But the delicate drama, in which "Parenthood" star Max Burkholder plays a privileged teen coping with divorce, excels at hitting its familiar beats. Burkholder plays Ray, the son of a troubled actress (Valerie Azlynn), who winds up forming a curious romantic bond with the babysitter (Daniele Watts) tasked with looking after his younger sister. With a gentle, unassuming style that taps into its troubled protagonist’s point of view, Krantz delivers a fragile narrative that earns comparisons to "Freaks and Geeks" for its careful navigation of drama and comedy. As Ray begins to question his surroundings, at first attempting an ill-advised gig selling pot before embarking on an even more ambitious act of rebellion, "Babysitter" maintains a sense of innocence about the dark elements in play — much like its lead character. Such careful attention to point of view is proof of Krantz’s promise behind the camera.
Jessica Edwards, "Mavis!" (Director)
Jessica Edwards has steadily established herself in the documentary world over the years, first as a film publicist and then as the author of an advice book for filmmakers. More recently, she directed several well-received short films, including "Seltzer Works." But her filmmaking career kicked into a new stage at SXSW this year with the crowdpleaser "Mavis!", a portrait of legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers. Edwards’ vibrant chronicle of the singer’s life includes details from her efforts in the civil rights movement as well as her group’s musical innovations. Cameos range from Bob Dylan to Prince and the late Levon Helm. Best of all, the film’s subject is still alive and active at 75. For Edwards, the success of this ode to its subject proves she’s got the chops to handle a major historical topic with its entertainment value intact.