This Friday, award-winning indie filmmaker Trey Edward Shults returns to theaters with his second feature, “It Comes At Night.” The A24 horror movie is an impressive feat for Shults, who has managed to become one of the breakout names in indie cinema, all before turning 30 years old.
The “Krisha” breakout is just one of many young filmmakers 30 and under who is proving just how bright the future of indie cinema is. Whether it’s Sundance breakouts here in the U.S. or foreign directors taking the international film scene by storm, age is nothing but a number when it comes to making powerhouse cinema.
Click through the gallery for 11 filmmakers 30 and under you have to know about.
Xavier Dolan has been making award-winning dramas for so long that it’s never not surprising to hear that the Québécois wunderkind is still only 28 years old. Seriously, how many 28-year-olds do you know who have been to Cannes five times? It’s a feat like no other, especially because he never leaves Cannes empty-handed.
Dolan’s 2009 debut, “I Killed My Mother,” won the Art Cinema Award, the Prix Regards Jeunes and the SACD Prize at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight. His second feature, “Heartbeats,” also won the Prix Regards Jeunes. After a two-year hiatus, Dolan returned with his nearly three-hour romance “Laurence Anyways” and won the Queer Palme. His masterpiece “Mommy” tied for the coveted Cannes Jury Prize, while his polarizing “It’s Only the End of the World” earned the Grand Prix in 2016.
Dolan is currently at work on his English-language debut, “The Life and Death of John F. Donovan,” starring Kit Harington, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon and Jacob Tremblay.
Instead of paying tuition and going to film school, director Quinn Shephard decided she would just make her own movie on her own terms. The New Jersey native was 15 when she came up with the idea for what would become her feature directorial debut “Blame,” a modern high school-set adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
Seven years later, Shephard arrived at the Tribeca Film Festival with the finished feature at just 22 years old and knocked critics off their feet with the drama, which she wrote, directed, edited, produced and starred in.
The release of psychological horror film “It Comes At Night” marks only the second feature by Trey Edward Shults, and yet he has already become an integral voice in the next generation of indie filmmakers. His debut “Krisha” rocked the indie film scene over the course of two years, winning the SXSW Grand Jury Prize in 2015 and earning Shults a handful of year-end prizes in 2016, including Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review and the Breakthrough Director prize at the Gotham Awards.
With “Krisha,” Shults managed to get inside his main character’s head as she suffers a psychological breakdown, heightening her neurosis with every spinning camera movement and hypnotic tracking shot. He does the same in “It Comes At Night,” a horror movie built on themes of distrust and paranoia. Shults may only have two features to his name, but he’s been working in indie film throughout most of his twenties. He was an intern on Terrence Malick productions like “Voyage of Time” and “The Tree of Life,” and he served as a camera PA on Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special.” Heading into his thirties, Shults has made a name for himself as a next-gen indie powerhouse.
It’s not every year a young foreign filmmaker makes a bold impression on American critics and audiences, but 28-year-old Chinese director Gan Bi did just that with his otherworldly feature debut “Kaili Blues.” The drama was the breakout darling of the Locarno Film Festival in 2015, winning Gan Bi the Breakout Emerging Director prize.
The films follows a local doctor as he interacts with people from his past and present while traveling the countryside in search of his nephew. Working in controlled long takes (one runs for as long as 40 minutes), Gan Bi absorbs the viewer into the movie’s beauty. Watching “Kaili Blues” is like experiencing a dream in real time, and we can’t wait to see what Bi Gan does next.
When your grandfather is Francis Ford Coppola and your aunt is Sofia Coppola, stepping into the director’s chair for yourself has got to be a challenge too daunting to put into words. And yet Gia Coppola took on the task with the confidence of a seasoned director in her 2013 debut “Palo Alto.”
In adapting James Franco’s collection of short stories, Coppola taps into the detached angst and conflicted compassion of high school life in a way that makes the coming-of-age genre feel more true than it’s ever been. Her film is as fragile and moody as its characters, and it’s such a fantastic debut that we’ve spent the last four years wondering when we’ll finally get a follow-up. As of March 2016, she’s been in development on “The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll,” starring Naomi Watts and Jessica Lange, and we’ll be ready for it whenever it finally drops.
Whether you know his name or not, chances are good that if you love indie film you’ve seen Brady Corbet’s face at least once. Corbet’s breakthrough as a director came with his first feature “The Childhood of a Leader,” which won him the Best Debut Film and Best Director prizes at the Venice Film Festival in 2015. The movie was released to critical acclaim last summer and would later go on to earn a Best First Film nomination at this year’s Indie Spirt Awards.
While Corbet’s directorial career is just getting started, he’s been a member of the indie film scene for so long that he’s become something of an institution. One look at his filmography and it becomes clear that he’s had a film school like no other, working in front of the camera as an actor on movies directed by Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”), Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), Lars von Trier (“Melancholia”), Antonio Campos (“Simon Killer”), Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Mia Hansen-Løve (“Love”), Ruben Östlund (“Force Majeure”) and Noah Baumbach (“While We’re Young”).
With that kind of education and one award-winner already under his belt, it’s clear Corbet’s future as an indie filmmaker is very, very bright.
Some directors make a handful of movies before their filmmaking vision becomes clear to the viewer. In the case of Nicolas Pesce, the vision was clear from the get-go. His debut feature, “The Eyes of My Mother,” took the Sundance by storm in 2016, with IndieWire proclaiming it the “major discovery” of the entire festival.
“Mother” is a minimalist black-and-white horror built on Pesce’s well-crafted sense of quiet, atmospheric dread. It’s a case study in how to control tone to maximum effect, and it was the film audiences just couldn’t stop talking about. Just over one year later, Pesce has already wrapped production on follow-up “Piercing,” starring Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott. It’s a healthy step up for a promising young filmmaker, and it proves Pesce is well on his way to becoming an indie mainstay.
In January 2016, J.D. Dillard officially graduated from Bad Robot receptionist to Sundance Film Festival breakout director. His feature debut, “Sleight,” stars Jacob Latimore as a street magician who uses his skills to pull of crimes and support himself and his younger sister.
Boasting confident storytelling and visual trickery to match his protagonist’s skills, “Sleight” impressed the Blumhouse team, who released it earlier this year to a gross of $3 million. The film only cost $250,000 to make, which is the kind of return on investment that Hollywood pays attention to. Dillard looks to be a likely candidate for the next indie breakout turned studio power player.
Post-college life can be tough, but it’s been absolutely tremendous for Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (collectively known as Daniels). The two filmmakers met in the Visual Media Arts program at Boston’s Emerson College, and they quickly landed directing gigs on music videos after gradating in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Their resume quickly filled out with the likes of videos for The Shines, Tenacious D, and Foster the People, and their insane spot for DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s “Turn Down For What” became a massive viral sensation and earned a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Music Video.
The Daniels’ success with music videos gave them the platform needed to transition into filmmaking, and their debut, “Swiss Army Man,” became one of the most polarizing hits of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. A24 ended up buying distribution rights after the two won Sundance’s Best Director prize, giving them one of the biggest indie platforms imaginable to get their work seen. The duo’s energy behind the camera is undeniable, and “Swiss Army Man” was prasied as one of the most original movie offerings of 2016. Something tells us they should have no problem surprising us with their second film.
The summer between his sophomore and junior of high school Jack Fessenden shot his first feature, “Stray Bullets,” a hybrid story of teen friendship that intersects with a violent genre tale of gangsters on the lam. That at age 17 Fessenden had a movie with day-and-date distribution which he wrote, directed, starred in and composed the music for makes Xavier Dolan seem like a late bloomer. Fessenden grew up visiting the sets of his father, NYC horror guru and Glass Eye Pix founder Larry Fessenden, who shared with his son a love of craft over a steady diet of Hitchcock films.
Over the years, young Jack has received a first class nuts and bolts film education, but he is not simply a chip off the old block. What’s most impressive about “Bullets” is not simply how assuredly and economically the young filmmaker handles the choreography of violence, but how he finds subtlety and depth in the film’s quieter moments – Chris O’Falt
Not every aspiring filmmaker gets his or her feature debut made by James Schamus’ production company Symbolic Exchange and executive produced by an indie film veteran like David Gordon Green, but Amman Abbasi happens to be that good. The Pakistani-American writer, director, editor and composer brought his first feautre, “Dayveon,” to Sundance earlier this year to positive notices (IndieWire gave it a B+, calling it a “powerful coming-of-age story”) and a pick-up by FilmRise. With indie heavyweights already backing his vision from the beginning, there’s no telling how high Abbasi will soar.