Indie film is experiencing something of a renaissance these days, thanks to extensive media coverage of film festivals, a variety of movie sites that provide free publicity for films, and widely available streaming services that make movies more accessible than ever before.
Indie films do not have a lot of money behind them and in many situations do not get a wide theatrical release, but indies can also be some of the best films of their years. Indie films do not have the same financial pressure as blockbusters to appeal to a wide audience, and therefore the outcome can be smarter and more artistically ambitious than big studio movies.
When making a list of promising indie directors, I sought to avoid filmmakers who are already well established such as Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Richard Linklater. I also eliminated very promising directors who have moved on to direct large budget movies, so you won’t see Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi or Damien Chazelle on the list either.
Those on this list are just getting started or have yet to move on to direct big studio films, but have already shown the talent to direct great films with a limited budget, and are sure to continue to make fantastic and fascinating products in the years to come.
10. Chris Kelly
Chris Kelly only has one film to his name, 2016’s Other People, but that one film is so powerful that Kelly has already shown himself as a promising director. Other People opened the Sundance Film Festival and deals with a comedy writer who returns home to care for his mother who is suffering from cancer.
Chris Kelly has previously worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live and his debut film is heavily influenced by his own life. The new director deftly balances comedy with the heart wrenching subject matter, showing a great control of tone for the rookie. Chris Kelly’s two lead actors, Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon give career best performances, and as a film Other People is a promising calling card for the young director’s future.
9. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
The Austrian director team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have only directed one feature film, 2014’s Goodnight Mommy. The horrifying film hearkens back to the graphic 1970s horror films of Brian De Palma and Roman Polanski.
The film’s look is beautiful, but the story is truly disturbing. The two director’s display a totally unique vision and a true talent behind the camera.
8. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
This director team gained recognition for 2006’s Half Nelson, which netted Ryan Gosling his first, and as of right now only, Oscar nomination. After their debut feature film, the Boden and Fleck directed the sports drama Sugar, and the comedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
The combo have somewhat flown under the radar since their acclaimed Half Nelson, but also directed last year’s great but underseen Mississippi Grind, in which Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn seek gambling riches in the American South.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s movies tend to focus on deeply flawed characters seeking redemption and its unfortunate that their work has not been recognized by wide audiences. They have also directed several episodes of the television shows Looking, The Affair, and Billions.
7. Lenny Abrahamson
Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson is the most accomplished director on this list, as he directed last year’s critically acclaimed drama Room and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. Despite this recent success, Abrahamson has yet to move into large budget films and most definitely still qualifies as an indie director.
The director’s best skill is his versatility, moving effortlessly between dramas and comedy. His last three films have been critically acclaimed, the high school drama What Richard Did, quirky hipster comedy Frank, and the aforementioned Brie Larson vehicle Room. Lenny Abrahamson does not currently have a new film project in production, but directed Hugh Laurie in one episode of the Hulu series Chance.
6. Alex Garland
Garland has been known for his writing work for years, penning the screenplays for movies such as 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd, but the writer made his directorial debut with the stunning indie science fiction film Ex Machina (2015). Garland showed his skill creating a beautiful atmosphere and directing three outstanding performances from Gleason, Vikander, and Isaac.
Although it was an indie film, Ex Machina still won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, an impressive feat considering it was in competition with blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Martian. Alex Garland is currently filming his sophomore effort Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, which is due to be released in 2017.