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'Mulholland Drive,' 'The Graduate' and 'Zoolander'? Here Are the Films That Inspired This Year's Sundance Filmmakers

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire January 28, 2014 at 5:11PM

We asked this year's crop of Sundance Film Festival filmmakers which films inspired them and collected their answers.
Queen of Versailles
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. 

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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.

"Let the Fire Burn"
"Let the Fire Burn"

Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash"): 60’s jazz docs like Jazz Dance. And --- though it’s not a film --- the audio tapes of Buddy Rich drilling his big band. He’s terrifying.

Jeff Preiss ("Lowdown"):  Some films have inspired me so tangibly that i could feel their life changing force take effect in the theater before they were through. Two come immediately to mind: Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey, which in 1968 when I was 12 (the first film I went to alone) revealed film as a language with infinite room for expansion - and more recently, Jonas Mekas' Lost Lost Lost which literally expanded my own life experience through the tactile poetry of its epic story telling.

Desiree Akhavan ("Appropriate Behavior"): Muriel’s Wedding, Fat Girl, Margot at the Wedding- all these films dance between brutal, unflinching honesty and hilarity.  I probably should have added "Wedding" to the title of my film.

John Harkrider ("All The Beautiful Things"): I'm inspired by simple and beautiful stories about struggle and love. The Bicycle Thief, 400 Blows, Murmur of the Heart, Wings of Desire all inspired me.

Maya Forbes ("Infinitely Polar Bear"): The 400 Blows. Melvin and Howard. Small Change. Terms of Endearment. The Bad News Bears. My Life as a Dog. All those movies have a lot of warmth and a love of humanity. All are funny and heartbreaking.

Andrew Rossi ("Ivory Tower"): The emotional and analytical force of Food Inc. was an important model.

Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens ("Land Ho!"): We were inspired by comedies from the '80s and '90s like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "Tommy Boy." We had a lot of fun keeping those films in mind, while taking a more naturalistic approach to the performances.

"Searching for Sugar Man"
"Searching for Sugar Man"

Kate Chevigny and Ross Kauffman ("E-Team"): You name it. Films like Redbeard, 2001, Fog of War, Gimme Shelter. Filmmakers like Kurosawa, Maysles, David Lean, Kathryn Bigelow, Herzog, Morris, Fellini, etc. But we are also amazed by the crop of new doc filmmakers and films like Cutie and the Boxer and Searching for Sugar Man. We’re both inspired by lots of films, both fictional and documentary. We particularly love character-driven films, again both doc and fiction, and films in which you get a “behind-the-scenes” look at unusual jobs and lives.

Adam Wingard ("The Guest"): The inspiration for this film was roughly based on watching a double feature of John Carpenter's "Halloween" and Cameron's "The Terminator." In many ways this film is an abstraction of my own disjointed memories of being a kid in the 80's and watching rated R films.

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Jeffrey Radice ("No No Dock: A Dockumentary"): Hoop Dreams, Dogtown & Z-Boys, When We Were Kings, The Times of Harvey Milk, Searching for Sugar Man

Ryan White and Ben Cotner ("The Case Against 8"): The Staircase, The War Room, American Dream.

Stephanie Soechtig ("Fed Up"): Tons of films inspire me! Coincidentally, the film that inspired me to become a documentary filmmaker for a living was a food movie I saw as a teenager called "Diet for a New America." But more recent films that inspire me are "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Food, Inc.," "The Invisible War," "Blackfish," "Inside Job," and "The Lottery."

Mark Grieco ("Marmato"): In the documentary world I’m a huge fan of Herzog and James Longley. One film that really opened my eyes to the possibilities in documentary was, “Cannibal Tours” by Dennis O’Rourke.

Brian Knappenberger ("The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz"):  So, so many.  But one transformative documentary for me was the film "Dark Circle."  I think I watched it when I was 12, and it really freaked me out.  I grew up in the town closest to the Rocky Flats community portrayed in the film.  After watching, I felt like I understood what a good documentary can do. 

Kate Barker-Froyland ("Song One"): The films of Wong Kar-Wai, Susanne Bier, and Jacques Audiard are very inspiring. "Don’t Look Back" by D.A. Pennebaker is a film I discovered while I was prepping for "Song One," and I love it.

Sydney Freeland ("Drunktown's Finest"): Well, my safe answer is Casablanca. But other films that come to mind are - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zodiac, Shaun of the Dead, and Inglourious Basterds.

Madeleine Olnek ("The Foxy Merkins"): Our movie is a parody of, and riff on iconic male hustler films such as "Midnight Cowboy" and "My Own Private Idaho, " so we were very directly inspired by those movies. We were more generally inspired by the French new wave, that they were movies about other movies, just like ours is. I loved the dynamic "Vivre Sa Vie" by Godard, which is another tale of prostitutes, and also his film "Masculin Feminin" and the way the landscape of the city, real coffee shops and places open for business are included in the film and deepen what you experience. The humor in these films is priceless and often not written about, everyone just associates the French and humor with Jerry Lewis. For me, the daring comedy in these films is what makes them so memorable. We tried to take similar leaps out in public with our film.

Jesse Moss ("The Overnighters"): Films that tell intimately-scaled, character driven stories and capture the complexity and contradictions of life. Harlan County USA was a creative touchstone for me, and Darwin's Nightmare. And I admire filmmakers like James Longley and Laura Poitras who make beautiful, intimate, observational films, take creative risks, and find original ways to engage the issues of our time.

Cynthia Hill ("Private Violence"): I love Terrence Malick. He’s just so damn poetic. That inner voice of his and his storytelling ability . . . I’m always moved by his films. I also love Lars von Trier. "Breaking the Waves" is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s just so raw. That’s the first narrative film I watched that felt almost like I was watching a documentary. We as humans are not scripted, not so perfect, and it was astonishing to see a narrative film capture that. Other than Malick and von Trier, I’ve been watching a lot of Tinkerbell lately. You’d be surprised at how good the storytelling is!

This article is related to: Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals