The 14 Best Student Films Made By Famous Directors

7. Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) – David Lynch

David Lynch is well known and recognised for his surrealist brand of cinema. His films which include Eraserhead and Blue Velvet have often been termed bizarre and have elicited polarised opinions from audiences. These absurdist elements were always an instrumental part of his films, including the short Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times), which he directed while studying filmmaking at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

This animated film depicts visuals of six grotesque human figures vomiting, while the wailing sound of a siren plays in the background. Lynch’s films have never offered easy explanations or interpretations and this film is no exception.


6. The Steamroller and the Violin – Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s films which dealt with the concepts of space and time, gave a new dimension to the medium of cinema and films such as Stalker, Solaris and The Mirror. After finishing high school, Tarkovsky enrolled to study filmmaking at The State Institute of Cinematography, Moscow. As a part of the course, he made three short films: The Killers – an adaptation of A Ernest Hemmingway story, There Will Be No Leave Today and The Steamroller And The Violin, the latter being his diploma film.

Based on a screenplay written by famed filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, the film narrates the story of an unlikely friendship between Sasha – a seven year old boy and Sergei – a steamroller operator.

The film is a moving account of an unlikely friendship forged between two people hailing from diverse economic backgrounds and teaches them some important lessons of life in the process. Tarkovsky uses a minimalistic approach to narrate the story and some spellbinding imagery that hooks you till the last frame. If you haven’t watched the films of Tarkovsky yet, this film could serve as the right introduction.


5. Doodlebug- Christopher Nolan

Before he was hailed for creating mind bending thrillers and giving a fresh spin to one of the most beloved Superhero franchises, Nolan was an aspiring filmmaker trying to break into the big, bad world of cinema. The short Doodlebug was one of the first films he made, while he was studying literature at the University College of London.

Shot in black and white, Doodlebug is the story of a guy relentlessly pursuing a bug that has caused him endless pain and agony. The film stars Jeremy Theobald (who played the lead role in Following), while the music is composed by David Julyan who worked with Nolan on Following, Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige.

The black and white tone of the film is reminiscent of Nolan’s breakthrough features – Following and Memento and is visually alluring. The film has some interesting tricks up its sleeve, even though they may not be entirely unpredictable. Yet in the course of its short running time, the film tries to touch upon several interesting aspects.

As the protagonist comes closer to capturing the bug, we see a larger image of the protagonist being projected behind his real self. Perhaps, Nolan aimed to represent the inner struggle of the protagonist to overcome his fears and desires.


4. Xenogenesis – James Cameron

Technically Xenogenesis is not a student film, since Cameron never underwent formal training in filmmaking. Yet it is special, since it is his maiden attempt at filmmaking. There’s also an interesting story behind the making of the film which makes the film and Cameron’s journey more special.

Before he became a revered filmmaker, Cameron was an average Joe who delivered lunch to schools. After watching Star Wars, the filmmaker was enthused to create the miniature models, similar to those he had seen in the George Lucas’ sci-fi spectacle. With the usage of bright lights and dolly shots, Cameron helmed the sci-fi short Xenogenesis that narrated the story of a woman and a man sent in a gigantic starship in space to search for a new life cycle, wherein they get into a combat with a robot.

Cameron is a self taught filmmaker who made films by buying dirt cheap equipment and kept making several films in the quest of honing his filmmaking skills. His eye for details and knack for using imaginative special effects is evident in this humble yet ambitious film. His journey should also serve as an inspiration for aspiring filmmakers to jump onto the filmmaking bandwagon without a second thought.


3. Freihit – George Lucas

Before Lucas came to be recognised as a filmmaker, whose career defining works were set in ‘A Galaxy Far Far Away’, he studied filmmaking at University of Southern California’s Film School. During this period, he directed a few short films including Freihit (German for Freedom). This short, told the story of a man trying to escape an unknown territory located across an ambiguous border.

Much like his other student films Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 and Look At Life, Freihit boasts of alluring visuals. But the film which offers allegories between East and West Germany divide, focuses on the struggles of mankind, has an abstract narrative and may not necessarily make for easy viewing. Yet it warrants a watch for its visuals and for providing the earliest glimpse into the directorial capabilities of one of the most influential filmmakers’ cinema has ever seen.


2. Amblin – Steven Spielberg

There are filmmakers and then there is Steven Spielberg. From war dramas to sci-fi to adventure films to animation to biopics and dramas that dwell on the triumph of the human spirit, no genre remains untouched or unexplored by the filmmaker.

Spielberg had enrolled to study at the California State University, but soon backed out to work as an unpaid intern at Universal Studios. While he was working as Universal Studios, he helmed this short of a hippie couple travelling from Southern California to Pacific Ocean.

Devoid of dialogues, the film is a road movie that comprises of vignettes of the various experiences the boy and the girl encounter in the course of their journey. And all of this happens, without a single dialogue being exchanged in the entire course of the film. There’s also a guitar case that plays a pivotal part in the film and offers a much needed twist in the tale. The road movie theme of this film may have served as a possible inspiration for Spielberg breakthrough feature Duel.

Adjudged as the Best Short Film at Atlanta Film Festival and World Fest Houston, Amblin led to Spielberg signing a seven year contract with Universal studios and one that made him the youngest ever filmmaker to sign such a contract. Spielberg eventually founded his production firm that was named as Amblin Entertainment. And thus began the journey of one of the most iconic filmmakers of our times.


1. What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This – Martin Scorsese

New York University alumni, Scorsese honed his filmmaking skills under the tutelage of Professor Haig P Manoogian to whom Scorsese had dedicated Raging Bull. During his tenure as a student at the New York University, Scorsese directed his first student feature – What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This.

The film narrates the story of a writer obsessed with a photo on his wall. It features voiceovers and fluid camera movements, tropes that became synonymous with Scorsese’s later works. The editing is inventive, the tone is wacky and the Scorsese’s sardonic sense of humour is prevalent throughout the film.

One can also sense that Scorsese is having fun exploring the filmmaking format and doesn’t seem extremely conscious while telling his story. During this period, Scorsese also directed The Big Shave – a film that symbolically dealt with the Vietnam war and It’s Not Just You Murray – that narrated the story of a gangster.

Author Bio: Aditya Savnal is a Media professional who has been working in the entertainment space for the last two and a half years. An ardent movie buff, he divides his time between watching movies and writing about them, when he is not at work. He has written about cinema and filmmaking for the filmmaking portal and he is also the co-founder of the movie portal for whom he also interviews cinema professionals and reviews films.