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2016 Fall Movie Preview: 12 Breakout Talents to Look Forward to This Season

Get to know some of the filmmakers and stars who are about to have the biggest movie season of their lives.

All this week, IndieWire will be rolling out our annual Fall Preview, including offerings that span genres, a close examination of some of the year’s biggest breakouts, all the awards contenders you need to know about now and special attention to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed fall movie-going season. Check back every day for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up.

“White Girl,” September 2 – Elizabeth Wood, Writer and Director

White Girl

“White Girl”

FilmRise/Netflix

Elizabeth Wood’s feature film debut was almost immediately deemed “shocking!” and “racy!” and “wild!” as soon as it debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but underneath a film about throwing caution to the wind in the pursuit of both terrible decisions and the capricious joys of youth beats a big, honest heart. Wood’s film centers on a college student — Morgan Saylor, who is magnetic — who unexpectedly falls in with an alluring drug dealer during the waning days of summer. As they sex and snort (and snort and sex) their way through New York City, Saylor’s Leah tumbles into a world she’s ill-suited for, and it only gets worse when her new boyfriend (Brian “Sene” Marc) is tossed in jail on drug charges. Leah goes to dangerous extremes to help him out, revealing her shocking (and, yes, totally believable) privilege at every single turn. The story of “White Girl” may sound crazy and strange, but Wood’s careful writing and skilled directing reveal hard truths about America’s youth and how they handle themselves in a big, very bad world. -KE

“Other People,” September 9 – Chris Kelly, Writer and Director

Other People

“Other People”

A veteran of “Broad City” and the newly crowned head writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Chris Kelly has long seem destined for big things — he just needed the right vehicle to help him step out of the shadows and show the world know who he is. To say that “Other People” will get the job done is a massive understatement. The opening night film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Kelly’s directorial debut tells the heartbreaking, hilarious and transparently autobiographical story of a young comedian who returns home to care for his mom (Molly Shannon) as she dies of cancer. Informed by the unmistakable intimacy of personal experience and streaked with Kelly’s warmly sardonic sense of humor, “Other People” is the perfect calling card, and a great introduction to a multi-talented guy who seems like he’s just getting started. -DE

“Operation Avalanche,” September 16 – Matt Johnson, Director and Actor

Operation Avalanche

“Operation Avalanche”

Lionsgate

Canadian director Matt Johnson has just two feature films under his belt, but he’s already been referred to as a “wunderkind” for the originality of his 2013 debut “The Dirties,” a high school-set mockumentary, and his Sundance film “Operation Avalanche,” about a comedic alternate history movie about the faked moon landing. Did we mention Johnson also co-wrote and played the lead in both films? “Avalanche” follows two clumsy filmmakers working for the CIA to uncover a Russian mole working for NASA. Once inside the organization, the pair learn that NASA is way behind on the moon mission and won’t be able to achieve President Kennedy’s goal of beating the Russians to the planet. Their solution is to shoot a fake landing themselves, a plan that’s later adopted by the U.S. government. -GW

“Miss Stevens,” September 16 – Julia Hart, Director and Co-Writer

"Miss Stevens"

“Miss Stevens”

After writing last year’s Civil War survival story “The Keeping Room,” Julie Hart makes her way to the director’s chair for this story about a teacher shepherding a trio of students to a drama competition. The film premiered at SXSW to favorable reviews back in March, anchored by that central cast of Lily Rabe, Timothee Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, and Anthony Quintal. Focusing on the tricky middle ground between young adulthood and inescapable responsibility, it’s a chance for Hart to show her skills for a film not tethered to a different time period. It’s a directorial debut from someone who’s not a stranger to storytelling. -SG

“Goat,” September 23 – Ben Schnetzer, Actor

"Goat"

“Goat”

Courtesy of The Film Arcade

Playing Nick Jonas’s younger brother might not sound like a breakout film role, but Ben Schnetzer is sure to gain some serious street cred for his performance in the upcoming college psychodrama “Goat.” Schnetzer plays a freshman pledge at his brother Brett’s (Jonas) fraternity in the college psychodrama, which was directed by Andrew Neel (“King Kelly”) and co-written by David Gordon Green. Lured in by the hedonistic rituals of frat life, Brad soon discovers the shocking abuse that pledges have to endure in the name of brotherhood. The nightmarish experience pushes Brad to his wits end and tests his loyalty to his brother. The son of actors Stephen Schnetzer and Nancy Snyder, Schnetzer had just four feature acting credits prior to “Goat,” which was produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films. He’s since added two more movies to his resume, the adventure fantasy “Warcraft” and Oliver Stone’s biographical thriller “Snowden.” -GW

“American Honey,” September 30 – Sasha Lane, Actress

"American Honey"

“American Honey”

A24

The story goes that one of Andrea Arnold’s casting agents discovered “Fish Tank” star Katie Jarvis at a U.K. train station where she was in the middle of a huge fight with her boyfriend. But it was Arnold herself who spotted “American Honey” breakout Sasha Lane sunbathing on spring break, and the director immediately sensed that she had stumbled upon a diamond in the rough. She had no idea. Playing an aimless midwestern teenager named Star who begins to find herself when she joins a nomadic band of magazine salespeople, Lane’s completely raw and completely unguarded performance is a singular and sensational thing. She distills exactly what it feels like to be young and lost in a country that feels like it couldn’t care less about you, and — most impressive of all — she stands up to Shia LaBeouf so well that she corners him into dropping his guard. Needless to say, a Star is born. -DE

“The Birth of a Nation,” October 7 – Nate Parker, Co-Writer, Director and Actor

"The Birth of a Nation"

“The Birth of a Nation”

Fox Searchlight

Nate Parker first proved himself as an actor starring opposite Denzel Washington in “The Great Debaters” before appearing in Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” and David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” but with his feature film writing/directing debut “The Birth of a Nation,” Parker has established himself as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. “The Birth of a Nation” is the true story of Nat Turner, the Virginia slave and preacher who led a 48-hour slave rebellion three decades before the start of the American Civil War. Parker was so determined to get the movie made that he turned down acting work to ensure he would get the project off the ground.The movie premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it took home both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize and was acquired by Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million. -GW

“Tower,” October 12 – Keith Maitland, Director

"Tower"

“Tower”

Documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland premiered two films about Austin, Texas at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival: “A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story,” about the American public television music program recorded live in the city every year, and “Tower” a partially animated doc about the University of Texas school shooting in 1966 that claimed the lives of 16 people. “Tower” tells the untold story of the day a gunman took the elevator to the 27th floor of the tower at the center of UT’s campus and began to open fire. Like his first documentary “The Eyes of Me,” about four blind teenagers, “Tower” uses a form of animation called rotoscoping, where animators trace over footage one frame at a time to create an animation-live action hybrid. Both films feature the technique in addition archival footage. “Tower” won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award at SXSW. -GW

“Moonlight,” October 21 – Barry Jenkins, Writer and Director

"Moonlight"

“Moonlight”

A24

You likely missed director Barry Jenkins’ 2008 debut film “Medicine for Melancholy.” The film, about a 20-something black couple coming off a one night stand and wandering around white San Francisco, didn’t necessarily set the world on fire. Yet, the feature did showcase a unique, somewhat offbeat voice and vision that made Jenkins a director worth keeping an eye on. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott captured it best when he described the film as “both sad and vibrant, meandering and formally sure-footed.”  Jenkins is now back with his second feature, “Moonlight,” which all signs point to being a potential breakout: It was the first film super distributor A24 decided to fully finance, it’s being produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B (Oscar winners “The Big Short,” “Selma,” “12 Years a Slave”), it snagged a prestigious New York Film Festival slot (a rare honor for an up-and-coming American indie director), those who have gotten a sneak peek are gushing and the trailer makes the film look like something truly special. -CO

“Christine,” October 14 – Rebecca Hall, Actress

"Christine"

“Christine”

The Orchard

Rebecca Hall is not a newcomer, but it’s possible that her role as Christine Chubbuck might be the one that catapults her career to a new level. That certainly is the hope of distributor The Orchard who, when they bought the film out of Sundance, made clear they saw a performance worthy of putting a Best Actress campaign behind. The role of Chubbuck is certainly a challenging one: The 29-year-old Sarasota news anchor shot and killed herself during a live television broadcast. Director Antonio Campos captures the character’s downward spiral into psychological duress, but as IndieWire’s Eric Kohn highlighted, it’s Hall’s performance that finds the character’s humanity. Writes Kohn: “Campos’ grim character study makes up for an occasionally stifling icy tone with a stunning lead performance by Hall, who turns the would-be suicidal anchor into a figure worthy of empathy rather than outright pity.” -CO

“American Pastoral,” October 28 – Ewan McGregor, Director

"American Pastoral"

“American Pastoral”

As space generals, lovesick writers and even Jesus, Ewan McGregor’s had a fascinating screen career that’s spanned tentpole franchises and intimate indies alike. With “American Pastoral,” the second of 2016’s notable Philip Roth film adaptations, McGregor slides behind the camera for his directorial debut. Judging by early footage, the film is true to both halves of its title, coating a small-town crime story in a crisp layer of cold tint, with plenty of shots of Old Glory to spare. And with McGregor pulling double duty as director and star, he’ll have another chance to add to his eclectic on-camera reel. -SG

“Loving,” November 4 – Ruth Negga, Actress

Loving

“Loving”

Focus Features

Ruth Negga has been acting in television and movies for more than a decade, but her role as Mildred Loving in director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” is sure to be a massive turning point in her career. Immediately after the film’s premiere at Cannes, predictions started rolling in that the Ethiopa-born, half-Irish actress would land an Oscar nomination for her performance. In the film, Negga and co-star Joel Edgarton play Mildred and Richard Loving, the biracial couple whose landmark civil rights case saw the U.S. Supreme Court end all racial restrictions on marriage in 1967. Despite having already proven herself as an actress of tremendous range, with roles in the British TV drama “Misfits,” the action-horror film “World War Z” and the UK drama “Iona,” Negga’s soulful performance in “Loving” will likely help her become one of the most sought-after actresses in the world. -GW

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