25 Emerging North American Indie Directors You Need To Know

9. Dan Sallitt

The Unspeakable Act

Another example of a filmmaker gaining more and more confidence as he makes more and more films instead of going the great debut film route, film critic Dan Sallitt’s early films like Honeymoon and All The Ships At Sea were little seen outside of festival appearances.

His fourth film, The Unspeakable Act, however, has quite a bit more going for it in its brave and honest approach to its subject matter, which is about a young woman in love with her own brother. Funny and painful in equal measures, Sallitt’s simple and mostly static camera setups suits his true gifts – an ear for truthful and cutting dialogue and a non-simplistic and non-reductive approach to character psychology that’s refreshing in its trust of the audience’s intelligence.


10. Jeremy Saulnier

Blue Ruin

How Jeremy Saulnier went from his not very distinguished genre debut Murder Party to the very distinguished, classy and critically acclaimed Blue Ruin will remain a mystery. An even bigger mystery is how Sundance rejected a film as great as Blue Ruin, but luckily the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight had enough sense to accept it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Instantly establishing himself as a director to watch with Blue Ruin’s critical success at Cannes, Saulnier is even back at Cannes for the second time in this year’s recently concluded edition where his third film Green Room again played at the Directors’ Fortnight. How well that film will do is something that we’ll discover later on as the year progresses but it sure does look like he’s entered the Cannes exclusive club already along with Derek Cianfrance and Jeff Nichols, and that is good company to be in.


11. John Hyams

Universal Soldier Day Of Reckoning

Son of director Peter Hyams, John Hyams is probably a bit on the older side of ‘emerging’ as he’s already got 4 fiction feature films and a couple of documentaries under his belt. With his debut film One Dog Day first surfacing way back in 1997, he’s probably going to be forever ‘emerging’ by virtue of not only working in the not so respectable world of direct-to-video (DTV) movies, but also making Jean Claude Van Damme DTV movies.

As unbelievable as this may sound though, he deserves his spot on this list exactly because he’s the one responsible for making the DTV sequels Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning. Regeneration shows off his supreme skill at staging and shooting action scenes and Day Of Reckoning got vulgar auteurists tongues wagging with its almost avant garde approach to visuals and editing, which Hyams himself admits is an attempt to imagine how Tarkovsky would direct a Universal Soldier flick.


12. Azazel Jacobs

Momma’s Man

Son of underground film legend Ken Jacobs, Azazel Jacobs is another director on this list who’s been working for a while now, beginning with the little seen Nobody Needs To Know in 2003 which he followed up with the delightful and slightly better distributed The Good Times Kid.

It was with Momma’s Man that he got quite a bit of attention from cinephiles after it played at Sundance and Rotterdam and getting picked up by Kino Films for distribution. But his latest film Terri that’s probably the one that’s most widely distributed. It even has a reasonably big name actor in John C.Reilly.

While The Good Times Kid and Momma’s Man have more of a free spirit in them, boldly going for the comic highs of Chaplin and Jacques Tati in parts, probably because Jacobs wrote them himself, Terri has a more mainstream friendly feel to it, with Jacobs directing from someone else’s script. But it’s the fact that he’s still managed to retain that Azazel Jacobs touch in the fond way that he treats his outsiders in Terri that points to an exciting future of potentially bigger films made with the same little eccentric heart.


13. Andrew Bujalski


Andrew Bujalski burst right out of the gate with his debut Funny Ha Ha, which was championed by Cassavetes expert Ray Carney and which won him the Someone To Watch Award at the 2004 Independent Spirit Awards. Funny Ha Ha even arguably launched the Mumblecore movement but the fact that it’s only at the 2015 edition of Sundance, with his fifth film Results (which incidentally stars a proper film star in Guy Pearce, a first for him), that he finally got into the main Competition, shows how marginalized his films have been at home so far, despite Beeswax and Computer Chess both playing at Berlin.

The critical hosannas lauded upon the superb Computer Chess (and the Sundance Alfred P. Sloan prize it won, where it played at the NEXT section) may have finally changed things for him, so it is hoped that he will get his deserved due on the home front very, very soon.


14. Jeff Nichols


Looking more and more like a new master of the modern Southern Gothic, Jeff Nichols has probably joined the ranks of American directors who will always have their new film play at Cannes no matter what, like the Coen Brothers, David Lynch and James Gray before him. 2 of his films so far have played there, with Take Shelter taking Cannes by storm by winning the Grand Prize at the Critics Week, the FIPRESCI Prize and the SACD Award.

But even more impressive was how quickly he graduated into the Cannes big leagues as his third film Mud played in the main Competition. His films will probably never ever be big box office hits but with 3 modern classics already under his belt, he commands everyone’s attention whatever he chooses to do next.


15. Mike Cahill


Lo-fi sci fi has been on a steady ascent, especially in the last 5 years or so as prosumer digital cameras become even more accessible to filmmakers with low budgets but big ideas. The standard bearer of all this will probably always be Shane Carruth as he set the scene with Primer in 2004, but Mike Cahill has, in his own more gentle way, proven to be not that far behind with the 2 films he’s made so far – Another Earth and the haunting I Origins.

While a lot of the lo-fi sci fi output in recent years have been conceptually excellent, few have got the emotional heft to match the usually high concepts, and it’s in this department that Mike Cahill has proved to particularly good at. Having proven his chops with relatively low budgets, it’s probably time that someone takes a chance on him and let him try out his big ideas on a big budget.


16. Jen & Sylvia Soska

American Mary (2012)

Female genre directors are pretty hard to come by, especially those that have made more than 1 film or are consistently working. Thankfully the horror flag is proudly waved by the Soska sisters, who first got attention from genre fans through their grindhouse flick Dead Hooker In A Trunk. They probably got their widest audience yet when WWE Films tapped them up to make the sequel See No Evil 2, which would’ve at least attracted all the Kane fans out there to see it.

But their shining hour so far, and their industry calling card, is the very awesome American Mary, a brutal and quite sexy feminist take on the body horror genre, as it explores the whole Extreme Body Modification subculture with great confidence and flair. With so few women they can call peers as directors in the horror genre, the Soska sisters are a treasure.


17. Sarah Polley

Stories We Tell

Canadian actress Sarah Polley probably has a familiar face to film fans out there, and as good an actor as she is, her real calling is fast proving to be in the world of directing films, not acting in them.

Her fiction films Away From Her and Take This Waltz are already enough proof of her talent for eliciting finely tuned performances across a broad emotional range from her actors (especially Michelle Williams’ quite astonishing emotional and psychological internal storms in Take This Waltz), but it’s her docu-fiction hybrid Stories We Tell that truly alerted cinephiles everywhere of Polley’s seemingly effortless gift with the more formal qualities of directing films.

Her 3 films so far have shown that not only she can make a conventional and ‘proper’ film, but she can also make an unconventional, searching and formally adventurous one, both equally good.