Director of Sundance Film Fest picks 10 best new filmmakers

Algenis Perez in SUGAR (2008), directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

Trevor Groth started working for Sundance as an intern in 1991. Now, twenty years later, he’s the director of programming for the annual film festival. It’s safe to say that in his time here he’s seen his fair share of films. Last year he collaborated on “Take 100: The Future of Film: 100 New Directors,” a painstakingly thorough compendium of who’s who amongst those directors just beginning to make a name for themselves. It was published by Phaidon in May, but in anticipation of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, we present Groth’s top ten most promising filmmakers to watch (as of last year), keeping in mind that after the events of these next ten days he might be making a few adjustments in his lineup.

Directors: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, SUGAR (2008)

“Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden are a soft-spoken couple who carry a big moviemaking stick. Their insights into the human condition, and their facility in transferring them to the screen intact, pack a mighty punch that enlightens as much as it entertains. The duo is out in front of the pack and sure to be standing in the winner’s circle for years to come.”

Director: Sophie Barthes, COLD SOULS (2009)

Sophie Barthes is here to stay, and inevitably here to shine. The filmmaker not only knows how to capture an audience’s attention but its imagination and philosophical prowess as well. And whether or not she sticks to the genre of science fiction or ventures to another one altogether, her future work remains some of the most anticipated in the independent film community.”

Directors: Jay and Mark Duplass, BAGHEAD (2008)

“The Duplass brothers are self-aware filmmakers who are serious about their craft yet don’t take themselves too seriously.  Roving camera angles and sublime reaction shots detail the sometimes awkward byplay between the characters as their true feelings and foibles rise to the surface. Baghead is a slight movie by design, but it goes further than expected in pushing the boundaries of no-budget independent filmmaking.”

Director: Jody Hill, THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006)

“The Foot Fist Way is a film that demands repeat viewing so that the hilarious one-liners have a chance to sink in. Hill looks at martial arts as it exists in the real world, and, more pointedly, in the southern U.S. The film creates hilarity through real-life emotions and reactions rather than mockery. McBride and Hill understand that the funniest moments are ones the audiences can relate to. Small in scope but big in laughs, The Foot Fist Way marked the emergence of Hill as a filmmaker with a black belt in funny.”

Director: Nash Edgerton, THE SQUARE (2008)

“Nash’s direction focuses on storytelling, and his command of the material is total. He builds tension and intrigue almost flawlessly, making audiences pay attention by not spelling everything out. The Square is as stylish as it is unsettling, and its ever-building momentum will grip you and leave you breathless—as much from the film as from knowing that you’re witnessing the swift emergence of directorial force coming up from Down Under.”

Director: Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, JOHNNY MAD DOG (2008)

“Sauvaire grasps the gravity of his film’s issues, yet serves them in a hyper-stylish, almost surreal package that exhibits a true visionary at work. Beautifully conceived, the film’s fluid camera movements and engaging stylistics bring color, depth, and immediacy to almost every scene. Presenting true-to-life experience in place of classic narrative  structure, Johnny Mad Dog is a gripping, poetic, disturbing, provocative, thrilling, and terrifyingly primitive experience that screams “this is what filmmaking is all about!” with every frame.”

Director: Cary Fukunaga, SIN NOMBRE (2009)

“Sin Nombre employs a kind of documentary style, but it never comes from a place of ego or irrelevance. And through traditional storytelling, and strong emphases on all aspects of cinema, including cinematography, sound, and editing, the camera almost seems to function as an integral character in the film. Universal Studios is already on board for Fukunaga next film, and it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes with it in terms of content and scope.”

Director: Rian Johnson, BRICK (2005)

“Brick has a unique voice that is by no means a fluke, and it is a sincere and stimulating first film that just screams of promise. For his follow-up, Johnson secured a bigger budget and made The Brothers Bloom (2008), a globe-trotting caper movie starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz. Judging from Johnson’s ability to make big things from limited resources, I can only imagine what type of ride this will allow him to take audiences on—undoubtedly an exhilarating one.”

Director: Sarah Polley, AWAY FROM HER (2006)

“The stamp of maturity in Polley’s direction comes at the end of the film. While it would have been easy to fade out on a down note, she instead shows Fiona and Grant dancing, followed by a shot of a young Fiona when she still had the “spark of life”. The spark is something that Polley has to the extreme, and she uses it to enlighten anyone lucky enough to see her graceful work.”

Director: Taika Waititi, EAGLE VS SHARK (2007)

“Instead of making us laugh at the antics of Lily and Jarrod, we laugh with them. Pulling off this kind of balance would be a real challenge for any filmmaker, and first-timer Waititi lives up to it with great skill. Even for all its outrageous moments, the film maintains a captivating level of depth that is missing from most others produced under the same limiting genre classifications.”

Be sure to satisfy all your festival needs with the latest buzz, top stories, and celebrity interviews from Sundance Channel’s coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.