By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire May 30, 2012 at 8:37AM
With the mid-year mark looming, this seems like a good time to revisit the most buzzed-about up-and-comers Indiewire profiled during the first half of 2012. We spoke with the 16 breakout sensations below, all of whom you are likely to hear a lot more about in years to come. So now's the time to get ahead on what they've done, where they're going and why we chose them -- so you're ahead of the conversation later. You're welcome. [Click on name to access full interview.]
Breakout Film: "Citadel"
Why We Profiled Him: If there were an acting award for versatility at this year's SXSW Film Festival, Welsh performer Aneurin Barnard would be the one to beat. In the Narrative Spotlight selection "Hunky Dory," he sings and acts opposite Minnie Driver as a hunky high-school student with a voice to melt hearts. And in the Midnighters film "Citadel," Barnard plays a young father suffering from agoraphobia and fighting for survival after a pack of feral children attacks him and his family. "Citadel" was acquired by Cinedigm and New Video, so expect to see it open soon.
What He's Up To: He just wrapped shooting "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes," directed by Francesca Gregorini ("Tanner Hall") and starring Jessica Biel and Alfred Molina. He also stars in the upcoming "Trap for Cinderella," co-starring Alexandra Roach (the young Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady") and directed by Iain Softley ("Hackers").
Profession: Writer, director, producer
Breakout Film: "Sound of My Voice"
Why We Profiled Him: The 2011 Sundance Film Festival served as a springboard for a remarkable number of writer-directors. Mike Cahill of "Another Earth," Dee Rees of "Pariah," Sean Durkin of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and Evan Glodell of "Bellflower" all made strong impressions, garnering distribution deals and a wealth of buzz. Zal Batmanglij, whose "Sound of My Voice" (co-written by star Brit Marling, who was also in Park City with "Another Earth") screened in the NEXT section, saw his film sell to Fox Searchlight and top Indiewire's 2011 mid-year critic's poll. But unlike the writer-directors mentioned above, he had to wait well over a year to see his debut open theatrically, in April.
What He's Up To: Batmanglij and Marling re-teamed with Fox Searchlight for their upcoming thriller "The East." In the film, Marling stars as a contract worker tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group, only to find herself falling for its leader. Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Julia Ormond and Patricia Clarkson all star. Batmanglij told Indiewire that he hopes to do another movie with Marling once he's done editing "The East." "We spent so many years laying down the track, and we've got it down a little bit now," he said. "I actually want to now take the train for a test drive and really try it out. I want to write a big movie."
Breakout Film: "Searching For Sugar Man"
Why We Profiled Him: Only one day into the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, first-time director Malik Bendjelloul experienced a high most filmmakers only dream of. His World Cinema Documentary Competition contender “Searching for Sugar Man” drew rave notices after its opening-night premiere, and the next day Sony Pictures Classics, making the first buy out of the festival, snatched it up.
What He's Up To: What isn't he up to? Bendjelloul said he has over four years' worth of ideas. Which one he’ll tackle next, he doesn’t know. “Maybe I’ll do another documentary, or maybe I’ll do a narrative feature,” he said. “If I do another documentary, the story needs to be as good as this one.”
Breakout Film: "While We Were Here"
Why We Profiled Him: British actor Jamie Blackley starred alongside Kate Bosworth in the black-and-white Tribeca Film Festival World Narrative Competition contender "While We Were Here."He told Indiewire over the phone from London that his trip to New York in support of the film marked his first visit to the Big Apple. It won't be his last.
What He's Up To: The rising 20-year-old talent, best known for his supporting turn in "London Boulevard" opposite Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell, is on his way to becoming a household name after bagging the lead role in Warner Bros.'s prequel to "300," "300: Battle of Artemesia." Blackley will play Calisto, the 16-year-old leader of a small band of soldiers. But first he will appear in this summer's "Snow White and the Huntsman" and star in the Bryan Singer-produced thriller "uwantme2killhim?."
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: "LUV"
Why We Profiled Him: Sheldon Candis, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, has several short films to his name, including "The Walk" and "The Dwelling," a documentary that chronicles the lives of two homeless Tokyo residents. The first-time feature filmmaker arrived in Park City this year with his U.S. Dramatic Competition contender "LUV," a blistering semi-autobiographical tale that cuts close to the heart. Indomina and BET acquired the film out of the fest.
What He's Up To: "I want this movie to get out the best way possible, but to be honest with you, we're super, super close with some new ideas," Candis told Indiewire. "Trust me, as soon as I know, you guys will be the first to know."
Profession: Actor, writer, director, producer
Breakout Film: "American Animal"
Why We Profiled Him: NYU Tisch graduate Matt D'Elia caused a stir at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival with his debut feature "American Animal," a dark and completely nutty comedy he wrote, directed, produced, edited and stars in. The film didn't go on to win any awards as the festival, but it was met with some of the most passionate reviews to come out of the event. Slant Magazine called D'Elia's vision "original, gutsy, and uncompromising"; The Wall Street Journal said "American Animal" is "personal filmmaking with ambition to burn"; while HitFix said the film "deserves to launch D'Elia as a filmmaker of note." Filmgoers discovered what all the fuss was about when it opened in select theaters in early May.
What He's Up To: D'Elia told Indiewire that he's set to start shooting his next movie, "Powder Keg," later this summer (no surprise really, given that "American Animal" was made two years ago). "I'm so excited to make a movie that I can easily explain," he said. "I still can't explain 'American Animal.' My next movie's a post-heist movie. I'm actually going to be in it again, so I must hate myself [laughs]. The fact that I'm in a movie that I can't watch and that I'm preparing to do it again is crazy. I'm a masochist. It's another one-location movie heavily inspired by 'Reservoir Dogs' and David Mamet."
Breakout Film: "Electrick Children"
Why We Profiled Her: With her tight blonde curls and the stark contrast between her skin tone and her bold lipstick, it's impossible to ignore Julia Garner's presence in a room. The high school senior had a small role in last year's Sundance breakout "Martha Marcy May Marlene," but her first starring role, in Rebecca Thomas's "Electrick Children," had even more heads turning at the Berlin and SXSW film festivals this year.
What She's Up To: Garner's got roles in Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own novel, the Generation X classic "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," and Leah Meyerhoff's "Unicorns" (in which she will star alongside Joshua Leonard and Amy Seimetz). In the pipeline, she's also snagged a role in the "Last Exorcism" sequel -- all before graduating high school.
Breakout Film: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
Why We Profiled Him: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a visually stunning portrait of Jiro Ono, the chef of what is often called the greatest sushi restaurant on the planet, marks the feature film debut of director David Gelb. He worked alone for several weeks in Jiro's kitchen with just a camera and a translator, capturing Jiro's dedicated routine and artistry. The resulting film is an eloquent look at one of Japan's living national treasures; a treat for food and film lovers alike. The film's gone on to become one of the indie box office success stories of 2012, having made over $2 million domestically since opening in May.
What He's Up To: "I'm working on a script right now with Matt Spicer, who is a great writer, and it's a murder mystery set in contemporary New York," Gelb told Indiewire. "I don't think I'll make another food documentary until I find somewhere I really want to hang out for a whole month."
Profession: Writer, Director
Breakout Film: "Bachelorette"
Why We Profiled Her: Leslye Headland, 30, came to Sundance with some serious buzz around her debut feature "Bachelorette," based on her hit Off-Broadway play. It's a raucous, fast-paced and hilariously foul-mouthed dramedy about a gang of old girlfriends who come together and screw everything up at their friend Becky's wedding. The cast is led by a terrifying Kirsten Dunst as Regan, the sadistic and insecure maid of honor from hell; Lizzy Caplan as Gena, a cokehead party girl who has to confront the ex-boyfriend who she says ruined her life; and a scene-stealing Isla Fisher as Katie, a ditzy and troubled perpetual retail slave. But the core of the film is Headland's insightful and relentlessly side-splitting screenplay. The Weinstein Company's Radius Label acquired the comedy out of the festival for a fall release.
Wh She's Up To: She opened her third play, "Assistance," in February at Playwrights Horizon in New York, while on the film side she says she's "still very much in 'Bachelorette' mode, which is a great place to be." Also, she is a complete motormouth, and what she has to say is just as witty and smart as her film, so late-night talk show programmers should be taking notice.
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: "Gimme the Loot"
Why We Profiled Him: New York-based writer-director Adam Leon is going to have a tough time topping these past few months. At this year's SXSW Film Festival in Austin, the first-time feature filmmaker won the Narrative Grand Jury Prize for his debut, "Gimme the Loot." Shortly after the win, Sundance Selects announced they had acquired U.S. rights to the film. Less that two weeks after SXSW, Leon was back in New York screening his film at the New Directors/New Films festival to packed, enthusiastic audiences. And just last week, Leon screened his debut in the Un Certain Regard section of the recently wrapped Cannes Film Festival.
What He's Up To: Leon told Indiewire that he's working on "something that's a little different. I'm so passionate about it that I'm paranoid to talk about it."
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: "Young & Wild"
Why We Profiled Her: Chilean writer-director Marialy Rivas raised eyebrows at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with her sexually provocative debut, “Young & Wild.” Rivas, an award-winning short filmmaker (her short "Blokes" screened at the festival last year), walked away from this year's edition with the World Cinema Screenwriting Award, which she shared with co-writers Camila Gutiérrez, Pedro Peirano and Sebastián Sepúlveda.
What She's Up To: Rivas told Indiewire that she has just finished another script with Gutiérrez titled “Princess.” She describes it as a religious drama based on a true story that's centered on an 11-year-old girl and set in the south of Chile. "It’s kind of like ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ in a way,” she said.
Profession: Actor, singer
Breakout Film: "Filly Brown"
Why We Profiled Her: In the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition contender "Filly Brown," from directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos, Gina Rodriguez gives a commanding turn as the titular young hip-hop artist. Previously, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate was best known for her brassy performance in the teen dance comedy "Go for It!" Indomina acquired "Filly" shortly following its Sundance run.
What She's Up To: Rodriguez, who recently signed a talent deal with ABC, is currently in talks to appear in Olmos' next project, an untitled boxing bio pic. "Michael had approached me after 'Filly Brown,' talking about an autobiography of this girl who was a boxer," Rodriguez said. "She grew up poor with a single dad and boxing was their connection. She just now became a professional. Her story’s just really beautiful. Little did Michael know, my father was a boxing referee. I started boxing at the age of three and it’s what brought him and I together. My dad’s my best friend."
Profession: Writers, directors
Breakout Film: "Black Pond"
Why We Profiled Them: With their first feature, the oddball murder mystery "Black Pond," British directing duo Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley are taking the UK by storm. The two (along with producer Sarah Brocklehurst) were nominated for the 2012 Outstanding Debut BAFTA this year for "Pond," alongside Ralph Fiennes ("Coriolanus"), Richard Ayoade ("Submarine"), Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block") and Paddy Considine ("Tyrannosaur"). Not bad company.
What They're Up To: They're almost done adapting Voltaire's classic novel "Candide." "The book is in itself a critique of novels," said Sharpe. "I guess the film is sort of sending up some stock devices and things that for some reason are acceptable in filmmaking [but] are in fact completely ridiculous." Their adaptation will be set in the present day like "Black Pond," but the similarities end there. "There are elements of it that are more fantastical and magical [than in 'Black Pond']," Sharpe said. "People die in it and come back to life."
Breakout Film: "The Intouchables"
Why We Profiled Him: French actor Omar Sy did the unthinkable earlier this year: he beat Jean Dujardin at his own game. Days before "The Artist" swept the Oscars and snagged Dujadin the statuette for best actor, Sy beat him in the same field at the 37th Cesar Awards, France's equivalent to the Academy Awards. The win may have come as a surprise to North Americans, who had yet to see Sy's film "The Intouchables," but to anyone in Europe, chances are they saw this coup coming. Sure, "The Artist" was an awards juggernaut at the time, but it didn't have "The Intouchables"' firepower at the European box office, where it grossed a staggering $281 million ($166 in France alone). The public had spoken, and Sy got his just reward for his crowd-pleasing turn as a rowdy Senegalese caretaker who befriends a handicapped white millionaire ("Tell No One" star François Cluzet). In a funny twist, the phenomenon opened Stateside via The Weinstein Company, which also had distributed the "The Artist" in the U.S., and the film has so far done solid specialty business.
What He's Up To: Sy told Indiewire that he's one month into filming Michel Gondry's latest, "Mood Indigo," in which he stars alongside two of France's biggest names, Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris.
Breakout Film: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Why We Profiled Her: Six-year old Quvenzhané Wallis gave a brutally honest and subtle performance in "Beasts," the debut feature from Benh Zeitlin that took both Sundance and Cannes by storm, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the former and two awards (the FIPRESCI prize and the Camera d'Or for best first feature) at the latter.
What She's Up To: With "Beasts" set to open June 27, Wallis is getting ready for even more accolades.
Profession: Writer, director
Breakout Film: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Why We Profiled Him: Writing her wrap-up of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis wrote that "Beasts" was one of the best films to play at the festival in two decades. No kidding. The film went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the event after slaying the critics. In Cannes, where the film screened in the Un Certain Regard section, "Beasts" won the FIPRESCI award and the Camera d'Or for best first feature.
What He's Up To: Prepping for the upcoming press rounds. Fox Searchlight, which acquired the film at Sundance, opens it in theaters June 27.