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by Paula Bernstein
January 28, 2014 5:11 PM
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'Mulholland Drive,' 'The Graduate' and 'Zoolander'? Here Are the Films That Inspired This Year's Sundance Filmmakers

Queen of Versailles

In advance of the Sundance Film Festival 2014, we sent out a questionnaire to filmmakers with films in competition asking them a variety of questions about their projects. We also asked them if any films inspire them. They cited classic documentaries including "The Civil War" and "Grey Gardens," as well as films by David Lynch, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Stanley Kubrick, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Francois Truffaut, Wim Wenders, Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam, Ingmar Bergman and The Coen Brothers. Several films show up as influences more than once, including "The 400 Blows," "The Graduate" and, oddly enough, "The Bad News Bears."

Here are the filmmakers' responses (slightly edited, in some cases, for length):

A.J. Edwards ("The Better Angels"): The work of Terry Malick, to whom I owe so much. Sergeant York, Mrs. Miniver, How Green Was My Valley, Pather Panchali, The 400 Blows, The Wild Child, Kes, Ken Burns' The Civil War.

Gillian Robespierre ("Obvious Child")Walking and Talking, Annie Hall, The Graduate, Crossing Delancey, Louie

Justin Simien ("Dear White People"): So many! Some perhaps more obvious influences would be "Do The Right Thing" and "Hollywood Shuffle" but I also found major touchstones in films like "Barry Lyndon," "Persona" and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."

Jennifer Kent ("The Badabook"): David Lynch’s films inspire me. I am amazed by their combination of beauty and violence. Also, he’s not afraid to be abstract. Lost Highway is probably one of my favorites of his and Mulholland Drive too. Also, there is a beautiful heart running through the strangeness of The Elephant Man. All round brilliant films. He stays true to his vision 100%.

Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo ("Rich Hill"): So many films inspire – whether they are films that are being made along side ours, like at the Sundance Edit & Story lab this summer – or classics that I revisit time and time again. For this film, “Queen of Versailles” was in some measure an inspiration. Our subjects embrace the American Dream just as in that film – but from a very different social and economic perspective. “Grey Gardens” and “The Graduate” are two personal all-time favorites; “Elephant Man” and “The Deer Hunter” made me want to be a filmmaker. 

Read More: How did The 2014 Sundance Film Festival Filmmakers Crowdfund (if at all)?

Peter Sattler ("Camp X-Ray"): Let me narrow it down to ones that influenced 'Camp X-Ray:' Gus Van Sant's 'young death' movies : Elephant, Gerry, etc., Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Hell in the Pacific, Compliance, Standard Operating Procedure, Hunger

Mona Fastvold ("The Sleepwalker"): I'm Scandinavian so Bergman is King. Lynch is important for this film too. There are others.

Todd Miller ("Dinosaur 13"): Alan Pakula’s classic conspiracy trilogy films Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President’s Men were huge influences.

Jeremiah Zagar ("Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart"): The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Ratcatcher , Mr Death, Children of Paradise, 35 Shots of Rum, Lightness Dark Lightness, Kes, My Name is Joe, Life Is Sweet, When My Father Was Away on Business, The Forgiveness of Blood, When the Levees Broke, Tim Hetheringtons's Diary, The Square, Let The Fire Burn, Life Stinks, Working Man's Death, Tarnation, Man on Wire, Bad Boy Bubbly, Tampopo, The Dreamlife of Angles, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, Marnie, Funny Girl, The Best of Youth, Grisly Man, Nobody's Business, Millers Crossing, Fresh, Brother From Another Planet, The Pawnbroker, The Two of Us, Born into Brothels. hopscotch, Cooley High, 400 Blows

Jeff Baena ("Life After Beth"): California Split, Stroszek, The Bad News Bears, Blue Velvet, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The King of Comedy, That Obscure Object of Desire, and The Jerk...

Jim Mickle ("Cold in July"): Blood Simple, Red Rock West, Memories of Murder, The Chaser, The Big Lebowski, Roadhouse, anything by John Carpenter and David Lynch

Cat Kandler ("Hellion"): Over the Edge, The Outsiders, Kes, Urban Cowboy, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Stand By Me, Lord of the Flies … and then bands like Metallica, Slayer, High on Fire, Pig Destroyer, Death and 70s southern rock.

Cary Murnion ("Cooties"): Some films that inspired us for this film are: Raising Arizona, Gremlins, The Breakfast Club

Alex Ross Perry ("Listen Up Philip"): Yeah of course plenty of things since I watch a lot of movies, but by the time you get on set it has to be pretty much distilled to just what I need to make this thing at the moment. The fun part of this film was having many talented department heads working expertly on one specific aspect, so I could make sure the production designer watched Rich Kids (1979) and Heart (1987) in order to make sure that our New York doesn't overstep the Golden Age that I fetishize the most. Then the cinematographer can watch Husbands and Wives (1992) for camera operating and lighting ideas while I watch We Won't Grow Old Together (1972) with actors and contemplate the misery and torment of artistic struggle.

Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow: Dead vs. Red"): I loved the early work of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi growing up, and they are, of course, a direct influence for me in making the "Dead Snow"-movies. I remember seeing them, and experiencing the sensation of being scared, disgusted, and also laughing at the same time, and that was an eye-opener for me... That you could actually combine these things. 

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement ("What We Do in the Shadows"): Zoolander

Craig Johnson ("Skeleton Twins"): "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "The Rules of the Game," "Election," My Life as a Dog," Hal Ashby, old Milos Forman, John Hughes, Todd Haynes.

Carter Smith ("Jamie Marks is Dead"): My inspiration while making JAMIE MARKS IS DEAD was always BUGCRUSH. I worked with a lot of the same crew on both films (Darren Lew the cinematographer, Eric Nagy the sound designer and Mike Potter the makeup designer) and I kept reminding myself that if I staid true to telling the story I set out to tell the film would find its audience.

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1 Comment

  • Alex | January 29, 2014 2:37 PMReply

    Thank you so much for this. This is so interesting and educational-- I will watch all that I have not seen!