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As ‘Junebug’ Helmer Phil Morrison Announces A New Project, Where Have These 5 Long-Absent Indie Directors Been?

As 'Junebug' Helmer Phil Morrison Announces A New Project, Where Have These 5 Long-Absent Indie Directors Been?

We were just having a conversation around The Playlist’s office pinball machine this week (“Ghostbusters 2“-branded, in case you were wondering) about whatever happened to director Phil Morrison, who helmed the excellent “Junebug” back in 2006 (launching the career of Amy Adams in the process) only to seemingly disappear from the scene, with only a recent credit on HBO‘s “Enlightened” to his name. And then, barely 24 hours later, the news arrived that Morrison was back, with the comedy “Lucky Dog,” which will star Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti and Sally Hawkins.

Between that and the recent news that the also long-absent Dylan Kidd had a new project in the works — “Get A Job” with Anna Kendrick and Bryan Cranston — we thought it seemed like a good time to shine a spotlight on some other, much-missed filmmakers who haven’t made a movie in some time. Last time we did this, we featured Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, Alexander Payne, Cameron Crowe, Jonathan Glazer and Todd Field, all but one of whom have since released or started filming new projects. Let’s hope the five we’ve picked below are in the same position by this time next year.

Tamara Jenkins
Time Away From The Game: Five years since “The Savages” premiered at Sundance.
The Brief: Jenkins started out as an actor and performance artist, she went to NYU Film School in the 1990s, coming out with two short films that played Sundance, before she made her feature debut with the semi-autobiographical bildungsroman “Slums Of Beverly Hills,” with Natasha Lyonne and Alan Arkin. The film won acclaim, but it took nine years for her to get another feature before cameras. Fortunately, it was one as good as “The Savages,” a moving, often hilarious comedy-drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and an Oscar-nominated Laura Linney (Jenkins also got a nod for the screenplay), as two siblings trying to cope with their senile father. But since then? Not a peep.  
What Happened: Given the near-decade gap between Jenkins’ first and second films, we’re not exactly surprised that we’ve not seen a third in the five years since. That being said, it’s disappointing that there hasn’t been any word of anything. Jenkins (who’s married to Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne‘s producer and writing partner) had a Diane Arbus project in the works after “Slums of Beverly Hills” that came to nothing, and “The Savages” took four years to come together (it was originally set up at Focus, who wouldn’t let her cast Hoffman and Linney in the leads, so she took it to Fox Searchlight instead), and she told the AV Club back in 2007 that she’d spent the rest of her time in the wilderness “probably doing things like directing theater. Little projects—not feature-film projects—you know, theater things, writing things, and jobs like doing rewriting for money, stuff like that.” We can only assume that it’s been the same story in the last half-decade, although she did say at the time that, “I’m writing a script, but it’s basically a series of notes in my spiral notebook that I carry around with me.” Hopefully, that’s not still the case, and we’ll hear news of a new project from Jenkins shortly.

Alison Maclean
Time Away From The Game: A whopping 13 years since her last dramatic feature-length film, “Jesus’ Son.”
The Brief: Arguably the least known of this group and only having two feature films under her belt (the first one, 1992’s “Crush” was entered into the 1992 Cannes Film Festival), still many of us have great affection for sophomore effort, “Jesus’ Son” (1999) starring Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton as two drug-addicted fuck-ups and lovers trying to maintain a semblance of normal life. It didn’t hurt that the film had a well-penned script by Oren Moverman (“Rampart,” “I’m Not There“) and an excellent supporting cast that included Dennis Hopper, Jack Black, Dennis Leary, Holly Hunter, Mark Webber, Michael Shannon, Will Patton and even a brief cameo by Miranda July.
What Happened: It’s been thirteen year’s since “Jesus’ Son” and unfortunately, there’s been little to discussion of a follow-up. Instead, Maclean’s paid the bills with TV work directing episodes of “The L Word,” “The Tudors” “Gossip Girl” and more like she did before making features (she also directed the documentary “Persons of Interest” in 2004).  All well and good (and respectable we night add), but again, our fondness for “Jesus’ Son” is strong, so we’d love to see her have the opportunity to make another film.

Shane Carruth
Time Away From The Game: Eight long years since Carruth’s debut premiered at Sundance.
The Brief: Carruth, a former software engineer, came from nowhere in Park City to debut his mind-bogglingly complex microbudget sci-fi “Primer,” and the film has become a cult hit over the years.
What Happened: “Primer” clearly marked the birth of an impressive talent, but considering the thoughtful, philosophical nature of the film, Carruth was never going to get picked to make tentpoles. For over half a decade, there was silence, but in 2009, Carruth registered the website atopiary.com, which was revealed a year later to be for a new film, “A Topiary,” an oblique, metaphysical sci-fi movie about children who come into possession of a box that creates artificial life. The film was in early pre-production, but never seemed to move forward, and a few months later, it emerged that Carruth was working on his friend Rian Johnson on his latest film, the sci-fi actioner “Looper” as a visual-effects consultant. Finally, last October, word finally arrived that Carruth was gearing up to make a new film titled “Upstream Color,” described as a romance/drama/thriller, possibly involving pharmaceutical aspects, to be produced by Ben LeClair. Word has been quiet since, but a report from the Dallas/Fort Worth area reported that Carruth had done some low-key early filming at the aquatics center in The Colony, Texas. Hopefully, the full-flung production won’t be far behind.  

Kimberley Peirce
Time Away From The Game: Close to four years since the release of “Stop-Loss.”
The Brief: Peirce turned her award-winning student short “Boys Don’t Cry,” about the murder of transgender man Brandon Teena, into the 1999 feature of the same name, winning star Hilary Swank an Oscar in the process. It took nine-years for Peirce to follow it up with the Iraq war drama “Stop-Loss,” which was inspired by her own brother’s military experiences.
What Happened: If this piece demonstrates anything, it’s that while it’s hard for anyone to get a movie made, it seems to be particularly difficult for female directors to do so. Kimberley Peirce won enormous acclaim for debut “Boys Don’t Cry,” but took nine years to follow it up, and another four have passed since the undervalued “Stop-Loss.” And unlike Jenkins, she’s had plenty of stuff on the go. She nearly followed her debut with “Silent Star,” a noir about the murder of early film director William Desmond Taylor, which was to star Hugh Jackman, Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley and Evan Rachel Wood, but DreamWorks wouldn’t back the $30 million budget. She had a David Mamet-penned script about John Dillinger, put paid to by “Public Enemies,” while neither her adaptation of “A Hearbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,” or a project about Israeli spy Eli Cohen got off the ground. And the box-office failure of “Stop-Loss” meant that, while she’s had plenty in development, including a romantic-comedy script (“in the vein of Pedro Almodovar and Woody Allen“) with Judd Apatow producing, and a New Orleans-set gangster tale, none ever made it to production. But finally, the last year has seen some movement: Universal and Imagine attached her to direct LA gang drama “The Knife,” she was hired to helm USA Networks pilot “The Enclave,” from a pair of former “Mad Men” writers and, only a few weeks ago, was picked to direct a remake of “Carrie.” Of all these projects, is that the one we most want to see from Peirce? No. But we’ll take anything, at this point.

Lance Hammer
Time Away From The Game: It’s been four years since his absorbing and austere debut “Ballast.”
The Brief: Bursting onto the indie scene with 2008’s “Ballast,” we’ve somehow heard nary a peep from one of the most exciting American newcomers to arrive on the scene, filmmaker Lance Hammer. A stark, spare and contemplative effort set in the Memphis Delta using mostly non-professional actors, the striking “Ballast” made quite the splash at Sundance that same year where it won the Best Director and Best Cinematography prizes and went on to become nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards including Best Film.  Not too fucking shabby.
What Happened: About a depressed man, struggling with the suicide of his twin brother while trying to take care of his delinquent teenage nephew in the poverty-stricken backwoods of Memphis, part of the reason Hammer may be awol is that the fiercely uncompromising filmmaker essentially turned down all indie studio bids and decided to self-distribute “Ballast” himself which meant while it did end up on a lot of critics’ top 10 list that year, only the smallest of arthouse audiences got the chance to see it in theaters. The whole scenario echoes the trajectory of Derek Cianfrance who made waves in 1998 with “Brother Tied,” but didn’t make another feature until 2010 with “Blue Valentine.” Hopefully it doesn’t take Hammer another 12 years to surface as the indie film world would be that much more poorer without him.

Honorable Mentions: As we mentioned up top, Dylan Kidd, who broke out with “Roger Dodger,” recently announced his next film “Get A Job,” eight years after his underrated sophomore picture “P.S.” He’s spent the intervening years directing for T.V., including a pilot for a U.S. version of “Peep Show” and two episodes of “Children’s Hospital.” Steven Shainberg made quite a splash with “Secretary,” but follow-up “Fur,” with Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr, didn’t catch on in the same way. It’s six years since that film, and despite coming close with the foot-fetish project “Big Shoe,” which lined up Joaquin Phoenix and Mia Wasikowska (which hasn’t yet materialized yet), he’s yet to make another.

Other helmers we miss include Carl Franklin, who made two ace neo-noirs with “One False Move” and “Devil In A Blue Dress“; later films were disappointing, and he hasn’t made anything but T.V. since 2003’s “Out Of Time,” although he’s reportedly wrapped something new this year. Alejandro Amenabar took a misstep with 2009’s “Agora,” and hasn’t had anything in the works since, while, despite flirting with “The Lincoln Lawyer,Tommy Lee Jones is yet to follow up his ace directorial debut “The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.” French helmer Arnaud Desplechin was behind two of our favorites of the 2000s, “Kings and Queen” and “A Christmas Tale,” but there’s been no news in the four years since the latter. And finally, we liked Matt Aselton‘s “Gigantic” (2008) and Martin Hynes‘ “The Go-Getter” (2007) well enough, and neither have seemingly been heard from since. What MIA filmmakers are you deeply wishing will make a return sooner rather than later?

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