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Critic's Notebook: The Next Great Filmmakers Are Everywhere, If You Know Where To Look

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire February 21, 2014 at 10:14AM

In the shadow of established virtuosos, few original voices can stand out without inviting comparisons to their precedents. So who are the new masters?
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Richard Linklater

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.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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 Greta Gerwig in Berlin last week.

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.

This article is related to: Critic's Notebook, New Directors/New Films, Berlin 2014, Berlin International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, History of Fear, She's Lost Control, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Ana Lily Amirpour, Benjamin Naishtat, Anja Marquardt