25 Emerging North American Indie Directors You Need To Know

18. Xavier Dolan

Laurence Anyways (2012)

Still only 26 years old, former Canadian child actor Xavier Dolan is already another full-fledged member of the exclusive Cannes club after his debut film, I Killed My Mother, made when he was only 19 years old took the 2009 Cannes by storm, winning 3 prizes there in the process.

Climbing up the Cannes ladder after his Directors Fortnight debut with 2 films in the Un Certain Regard category and even a competition slot at Venice and FIPRESCI Award win for Tom At The Farm, Dolan stuns even further with his Jury Prize (which basically means third place in the main Competition) win at Cannes for his fifth film Mommy.

A very accomplished visual stylist, albeit mostly pastiches of his heroes like Wong Kar Wai, which is a charge that his critics like to level at him, a wunderkind with 5 films (all of which competed at the world’s top festivals) already under his belt at age 25 is not something that we get to encounter every day, no matter how you feel about his work.


19. Rick Alverson

The Comedy

A true multi-hyphenate, Rick Alverson not only makes films and music videos (for artists like Bonny Prince Billy and Sharon Van Etten) but has also released 9 records on the Jagjaguwar label, mostly with his band Spokane. He first caught attention with his second film New Jerusalem, which played at the Rotterdam Film Festival and SXSW, but he made his biggest splash yet with the outrageously grotesque The Comedy, a satire of rich Brooklynite hipsters that’s as funny as it is uncomfortable to watch.

He followed up that provocation with another one called Entertainment, which centers on a comedian doing a string of shows in barely attended dive bars around the Mojave Desert that’s just as funny and uncomfortable to watch as the comedian verbally abuses audience members, delivers painful rape jokes and all sorts of other queasy spectacles. Fast proving to be a master of bleak discomfort, may Alverson have a long and fruitful career making provocations like these.


20. James Ponsoldt

The Spectacular Now

On a superficial level, the 3 films that James Ponsoldt have made so far will sound like any other vanilla Sundance indie film if you only read their synopsis as they’re all relationship films of the kind that usually pepper the Sundance lineup, or any of the other American indie film festivals out there for that matter, only to vanish from the radar once their festival screenings are over, never to be seen, let alone distributed, again.

His debut Off The Black is probably the most low profile of his films, but after that his profile has steadily risen, with Smashed getting plenty of attention for Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s superb lead performance and The Spectacular Now bringing notice to the world of the wonderful acting talents of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

His gift then, is to invest familiar, even clichéd or banal material, with the kind of honesty and earnestness that elevates the material to a much higher level. It’s an unshowy gift, that’s for sure, but it’s definitely not unimportant.


21. Mike Flanagan

Oculus (2013)

Mike Flanagan first surfaced with his debut film Makebelieve in 2000, followed up by 2 more low key and under the radar films Still Life and Ghosts Of Hamilton Street that mostly only played at smaller and regional US indie film festivals, which was probably why most people would think that his 2011 film Absentia, a hit in genre festivals and the horror circle, was actually his debut.

Like most other people on this list, the road to recognition can be a long and hard one, and even though Absentia was fairly well received, a proper mainstream hit only came with his fifth film, the excellent Oculus. Oculus was not exactly a very big hit with its US box office taking of US$28 million, but it’s a great enough horror film to put his name next to James Wan, Ti West and Adam Wingard in the pantheon of modern day horror directors.


22. David Robert Mitchell

It Follows

By now you’ve probably already heard of, or maybe even seen David Robert Mitchell’s second film It Follows. A quite unlikely sleeper hit, currently with US$15 million in US box-office takings, it’s remarkable how genre can energize a filmmaker’s career. In Mitchell’s case, his debut The Myth Of The American Sleepover was a lovely yet very casual coming of age film, something in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Slacker in its relaxed approach to narrative, which doesn’t exactly scream box-office hit.

DNA of that debut can still be seen everywhere in It Follows, especially in its details of sleepy suburbia and life therein, but Mitchell’s obvious tip of the hat to John Carpenter (check out that superb synth score!) has resulted in a film that’s not only very, very well made, which resulted in its success at the Critics Week in Cannes, but also a very strong narrative that’s just catnip for horror fans, even casual ones.


23. J.C. Chandor

A Most Violent Year

Margin Call was undoubtedly a highly impressive breakthrough debut, but you’d be forgiven to not expect too much yet out of its director J.C. Chandor as there really isn’t that much in it that would make him stand out in a crowded field of new and very talented American directors. Then he made All Is Lost, a complete 180 degree about turn from the talky dynamics of his debut in which there’s only an old man and the sea throughout the whole thing.

When he made another highly impressive about turn with A Most Violent Year, this time exploring the moody and corrupt New York of prime Sidney Lumet, it’s quite clear that what we have on our hands now is a director who wants to do all sorts of different kinds of films, and have got the talent to do them all supremely well. And that, dear readers, is the kind of versatility that is not only rare these days, but also of the very best kind.


24. Philippe Falardeau

The Good Lie

Maybe it’s because he’s Canadian, and that he’s mostly made French language Canadian films that he has not yet enjoyed the kind of profile that his fellow French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve have enjoyed. Like Villeneuve, he’s also had a film nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars (with his beautiful fourth film Monsieur Lazhar), but unlike Villeneuve, his English language debut The Good Lie has not enjoyed the kind of success that Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Enemy had enjoyed.

The Good Lie may have Reese Witherspoon in it, but its stars are undoubtedly the lesser known black actors playing the Sudanese refugees that are the main subjects of the film, and like all his films, it has a generosity of spirit and understanding of the travails of outsiders and in this case refugee life (which seems to be a common theme lately in his films, whether it’s major or minor) that makes it a rare case of good intentions gone well for a change.


25. Joel Potrykus


Joel Potrykus is another name to look out for in the still marginalized but increasing number of American indie filmmakers who wear their low budget and underground badge with pride. His debut film Ape centers on its main character who is a stand-up comic and a pyromaniac. Shot on weekends in Michigan with a reported budget of US$2,000, it was plucked out of obscurity by the Locarno Film Festival to play at its Filmmakers Of The Present section.

His follow up Buzzard, which was picked up for distribution by Oscilloscope Laboratories even before its US debut at SXSW, also had its international premiere at Locarno. Again dealing with troubled youth in lower class America, the darkly hilarious Buzzard is set to raise Potrykus’ profile even more, and with him publicly declaring that he’d like to stay and make films in Michigan for as long as possible, it would be exhilarating to imagine the kind of cinematic Molotov cocktail he’s going to cook up next.

Author Bio: Aidil Rusli is a film geek who’s also the singer-songwriter of Malaysian power pop band Couple (www.facebook.com/wearecouple), and whose geekiness compels him to endlessly write about films in as many avenues and publications as he possibly can.