Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Eric Kohn
February 21, 2014 10:14 AM
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Critic's Notebook: The Next Great Filmmakers Are Everywhere, If You Know Where To Look

A decade ago, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater were some of the strongest American filmmakers working outside Hollywood. Anderson had churned out three distinctive visions ("Rushmore,” "The Royal Tenenbaums," and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") while Linklater was entrenched in a career steeped in talky, deeply introspective works, from "Slacker" to "Waking Life," not to mention "Before Sunrise" and its equally popular sequel, "Before Sunset."

Now? Last weekend, when both men won top prizes at the Berlin Film Festival for their latest features, it looked as though nothing had changed. If anything, the filmmakers' accomplishments suggested that they have achieved greater autonomy than ever before, and that's saying something.

Anderson took home the runner-up Silver Bear for his fantastical period comedy "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a slick but unapologetically self-indulgent achievement by a director who has earned the right to operate on his own stylistic wavelength. Linklater's epic "Boyhood" -- shot with the same cast over the course of 12 years -- consolidates the director’s experimental uses of communication and the role of popular culture in forming American sensibilities. Viewed together, these films represent vital sources of unconventional storytelling at the core of American cinema.

But what about everyone else? At Berlin, a number of the movies programmed in competition alongside Linklater and Anderson were first-timers. Although the gathering showcased previously unknown talent, it largely heralded the names that were firmly established at its start.

This reflects less of a shortcoming on the festival's part than a global trend afflicting film culture: the growing chasm between veteran filmmakers and newcomers. The strong first features in Berlin's lineup didn’t (couldn’t?) express cohesive visions on par with Anderson and Linklater.

In the shadow of these virtuosos, few original voices could stand out without inviting comparisons to their precedents — and to be fair, they helped shepherd them to fruition. New York drama "She's Lost Control," from Anja Marjuardt, was considered in the tradition of "Clean, Shaven" director Lodge Kerrigan, who aided in the production. Likewise, David Zellners' "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” was compared with the oeuvre of Alexander Payne, an executive producer. 

Greta Gerwig in Berlin last week. Markus Schreiber

You can consider one of two possibilities: Either these filmmakers are ripoff artists or the density of new movies has made it increasingly difficult to view them outside the context of their precedents. Either way, it's enough to make the accused copycats lash out. When Berlin jury member and actress Greta Gerwig read Anderson's acceptance at the awards ceremony (he left town days earlier), she prefaced it with a sly joke. "This is appropriate," she said, brandishing a page with his remarks, "because I'm often mistaken for him.”

In an increasingly dense marketplace for emerging filmmakers, many are fleeing to an adjacent medium. Indeed, a few days earlier news broke that Gerwig -- one of few young American faces to recently break out of the insular festival scene as both actor and director -- would write and star in the television spinoff "How I Met Your Dad."

Nonetheless, the opportunities to discover new filmmakers are greater than ever — but to fully recognize the character of new voices in American cinema, it helps to see that the idea of regional filmmaking has become something of a misnomer.

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  • freddy | February 24, 2014 12:29 PMReply

    Nice selection of talent. Thanks

  • Wendy | February 23, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Great article. Talent exists. We have to learn how to look for it

  • Frember | February 23, 2014 2:05 AMReply

    Talent is now a crucial element. The economics of film production is allowing quality production with less investment. Your list show this

  • Soleil | February 21, 2014 3:25 PMReply

    Nice article. Truly enjoyed the insights.

  • Well | February 21, 2014 3:03 PMReply

    Overseas filmmakers will always be more interesting than the American crop due to less marketability and profit concern.

  • theresa | February 21, 2014 1:26 PMReply

    Cost reductions in producing and deploying films will attract new talent to the various realizations of film as an art. Good article

  • Nocritic | February 21, 2014 1:12 PMReply

    From a consumer at critical reviews NOT a producer. I believe DJames is totally out his/her mind. It is the multiplicity of critics including this one that allow the community to get a perspective on films and film making. This is the first time I post a comment and I do it solely out of outrage 0f personal attacks void of any connection with reality.

  • Djames | February 21, 2014 12:00 PMReply

    There's another possibility you don't consider: that critics, you among them, have so debased the level of discourse and valuation that there's no culture to sustain filmmaking.

    Referring to the likes of Linklater, Payne, Wes Anderson, et al. as "virtuosos" and "masters" is as shocking as it preposterous. One would like to say "only on indiewire" but of course, the rot goes further.

    The paucity of new talent reflects, in part, this debased film culture. Thank you, Eric!

  • norbert | February 21, 2014 11:05 AMReply

    Great Piece. The future for film is promising. because of new talent