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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

(“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.

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

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.

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.

Read More: How’d They Shoot That? Here’s the Cameras Used By This Year’s Sundance Filmmakers

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.

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.

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. 

(“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.

(“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!

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