The Best Young Directors Making Movies Today

The days of turning to Wes Anderson, Danny Boyle, and David Fincher for “indies” are long gone. Luckily, there is a whole new crop of names to know in cinema in 2013. Sure, we are all familiar with ingenue Lena Dunham, but she is only the tip of the indie iceberg. With the advent of digital, fan support via Kickstarter, and the festival circuit allowing more people to see smaller films, being a director doesn’t have to require a long and hallowed career anymore.

These 12 directors, all of whom clock in under 40 years old, prove that helming a camera and having a vision can happen early on in a career — and that being an “auteur” can occur at any age.


Sean Durkin 

Last year, the indie-film world was rocked byMartha Marcy May Marlene, and its hypnotic star, Elizabeth Olsen. It’s rare for two such new talents to be so widely embraced, but since the second they hit Sundance, they’ve both been rising fast. Up next, Durkin is tackling a whale of a biopic with Janis (as in Joplin). Given the raw, lovely, wholly engrossing power of his first feature, we’re confident this is the man for the job. 

If you like a terrifying movie that’s nothing like horror, try Martha Marcy May Marlene

Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Pace/BEImages.


Mia Hansen-Løve 

This young French director first made waves with Le père de mes enfants (Father of My Children), which netted her some serious Cannes consideration. Hansen-Løve is known for her moody films, which have a particular interest in the romantic. In fact, her newest movie Un amour de jeunesse (with an English title Goodbye First Love) is about a dramatic 15-year-old whose proclamations of adoration would put Bella Swan to shame. Hansen-Løve captures innocence in a way that feels uncontrived. Perfect for a breezy summer afternoon…with a glass of wine, of course. 

If you like the romanticism of Sofia Coppola, try Mia Hansen-Løve.

Photo: Courtesy of AGF s.r.l./Rex/Rex USA.


Dee Rees 

Dee Rees didn’t start in the film industry — she was entrenched in the advertising world when she fell in love with film. She eventually went back to square one and enrolled in NYU’s graduate film program. There, she found a mentor in Spike Lee (not too shabby) and soon was making shorts of her own. Her debut feature, Pariah, rocked the indie-film scene with its heartrending coming-of-age tale of teenage heartbreak, family tension, and sexual exploration. 

If you like early Spike Lee, try Pariah

Photo: Courtesy of Picture Perfect/Rex USA.


Xavier Dolan 

Xavier Dolan may be absurdly young for a two-time Cannes vet, but he is making the most of his youth. All those half-finished essays you wrote about hating your parents or falling in love with your best friend? He turned them into feature-length, award-winning, internationally renowned films. With the roll he’s on, we’re looking forward to dozens of heartrending films about foundering 20-somethings and the quarter-life crisis — just as soon as he’s old enough to have one. 

If you liked I’ve Loved You So Long, try Laurence Anyways

Photo: Courtesy of Matt Baron/BEImages.


Cary Fukunaga 

The most exciting thing about Cary Fukunaga is trying to figure out what he’ll do next. With his first three features set in gangland Mexico, Victorian England, and (next up) Stephen King’s haunted Maine, it’s impossible to pigeonhole this guy. One thing you can always look forward to is the soaring beauty and emotion he infuses throughout his films. Fukunaga’s romantic eye seems to know no boundaries, and we’re happy to be along for the ride. 

If you like Ang Lee, try Cary Fukunaga. 

Photo: Courtesy of Henry Lamb/Photowire/BEImages.


Jeff Nichols 

There is a certain type of American fascination with the South — a place that Jeff Nichols knows intimately. His newest movie Mud stars some major A-listers (recently maligned Reese Witherspoon, for instance), and it’s a coming-of-age narrative with a dark twist. Nichols is obsessed with the story; in fact, his filmmaking thankfully puts narrative first. Without relying on typical Southern clichés, he takes viewers back to his home, with the warmth, the accents, the slow pace, and the building tension it entails. 

If you like Michael Haneke’s Caché, try Take Shelter

Photo: Courtesy of Joseph Kerlakian/Rex/Rex USA.


Lena Dunham 

There’s absolutely nothing one can say about Lena Dunham that hasn’t already been said, and argued, and analyzed, in 50 different languages. But before the Emmy Awards, book deals, and intimate knowledge of her bare boobs, there was Tiny Furniture, one of the most perfect coming-of-age films…well, ever. If you’re burned out on Girls, wait a few months, then Netflix this film. It’s mandatory viewing for anyone who’s ever been 22. 

If you like films that remind you of the moments you’d like to forget — and then laugh at them, and then call your mom and cry, for God’s sake, try Tiny Furniture

Photo: Courtesy of David Fisher/Rex/Rex USA.


Sarah Polley 

Sarah Polley went from wise-eyed child actress to gut-wrenching auteur in the blink of an eye. It takes serious moxie to start your directorial career with a punch in the gut like Away From Her. Then, the lighter (but by no means fluffy)Take This Waltz confirmed that this woman has serious chops when it comes to shining light on the complex, emotional entanglements of everyday people. If you’re entering a Sarah Polley film, be prepared to feel. 

If you like Blue Valentine, try Take This Waltz

Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Pace/BEImages.


Zal Batmanglij 

He may be new to the industry, but Zal Batmanglij’s voice is already one of the most resonant in the industry. Watch Sound of My Voice and just try to think about something else for the next three days. Not one to shy away from the strange and unsettling, Batmanglij’s next film,The East, starring friend and frequent collaborator Brit Marling, has us on pins and needles. 

If you like Darren Aronofsky and PT Anderson, trySound of My Voice

Photo: Courtesy of Everett Collection/Rex USA.


Jonathan Levine 

Jonathan Levine knows what we are looking for: a heart-warming story, to see the good guy win in the end, and to have a couple of laughs along the way. The young director’s first few movies (The Wackness and 50/50, for instance) have been decently commercial, and he imbues his bigger hits with a smaller indie sensitivity. Young and relatable guys going through a hard time is his forté — but even his “genre” movies have a wink and a nudge we appreciate. 

If you liked Zombieland, try Warm BoLaurence Anwaysbr> Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Pace/BEImages.


Ry Russo-Young 

Ry Russo-Young is concerned with the young women of America. That transitory age, the one that is proving ripe for conversation from thoughtful actresses and directors alike, seems to be central in all of her movies. Her first film featured a brash performance from Stella Schnabel (Julian’s daughter) and her second, L.A.-based feature Nobody Walks, features Olivia Thirlby in a complicated situation with John Krasinski. Like a certain other lady on this list, Russo-Young is from New York, went to Oberlin, and remembers how horribly awkward the early 20s can be. 

If you like Welcome To The Dollhouse, you’d like Nobody Walks

Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Pace/BEImages.


Benh Zeitlin 

Benh Zeitlin has accomplished the near impossible: On his first feature-length film, he went all the way to the Oscars with a cast of unknown (well, unknown then) actors. A start like that is a true testament of skill. With his own production company and everyone in Hollywood now knowing his name, we haven’t heard what Zeitlin is up to yet — though we’ve no doubt it’ll be major. 

If you like Winter’s Bone, you might like Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Jim Smeal/BEImages.

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