The 10 Best New Filmmakers of 2013

Movies Lists

2013 was a banner year for new filmmakers—on our Best Documentaries of the year list alone, the top four spots were occupied by newcomers (and the fifth, Sarah Polley, was new to documentary film). On the narrative side, one new director, Ryan Coogler, gave us the most buzzy Sundance film of the year (Fruitvale Station), while another, Amy Seimetz, finally released one of our favorite debuts of recent years (Sun Don’t Shine). Keep an eye on these 10 names as we enter 2014 and beyond.

10. Rama Burshtein – Fill the Void
Director Rama Burshtein’s film holds on to the woman’s viewpoint inside of a man’s world. Men and women are separated, almost like in Edwardian England, where marriages are arranged by parents instead of potential newlyweds. And surprisingly, it does question the practice of such stringent social codes. One of Shira’s friends is a woman that has passed her years of childbearing without netting a husband. She is treated with sympathy by Shira, even if others glibly gossip about her. There are friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and even frenemies in the women’s circle. This is a very real, lived-in world.-Monica Castillo

9. Zachary Heinzerling – Cutie and the Boxer
Great artists are often forgiven for flaws in their personal lives, but such forgiveness usually hinges on success. Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling’s fascinating documentary about Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, depicts a man who is entering his 80s, but still dreams like he’s 20. Heinzerling leaves open for debate whether the old man is an important mind or a bum.-Jeremy Matthews

8. Jill Soloway – Afternoon Delight
Audiences and critics alike were split over Soloway’s Afternoon Delight. Even our own Jeremy Mathews found the shifts in tone disconcerting, calling it half sitcom, half Cassavetes film. But that’s part of what I liked about the film. The moments of levity (many from the strong lead performance of Kathryn Hahn) lightened what could have been a ponderous, oppressive film. Josh Radnor’s intense turn, for example, might have been overbearing in a more serious film. And Juno Temple’s stripper might have seemed a little too daft and unsubstantial for a light comedy. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, of course, but for my money Jill Soloway pulls it off neatly.-Michael Dunaway

7. Adam Leon – Gimme the Loot
An astoundingly spirited debut from director, Adam Leon, Gimme the Loot keeps a youthful faith in the endless possibilities of the future. But the movie also stays grounded in the realities of struggling, up-and-coming artists. It’s human and hopeful, never letting the tone get too cynical or bitter. Leon’s film embeds a mature friendship in the story of two teen graffiti artists trying to pull off the biggest graffiti tag in the Bronx. Much more grownup than it looks, Gimme the Loot is that rare teen-centric film whose brisk pace is unburdened by sentimentality.-Monica Castillo

6. Rodney Ascher – Room 237
There exists a rare species of obsessive moviegoer—the hyper-fan who focuses on one film, mentally and emotionally ingesting it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Along a certain parallel, there is also a serious breed of conspiracy theorist, compulsive in his or her beliefs, taking things far beyond just watching Doomsday Preppers for fun. Put these two types together, and you get Room 237, the confounding, eye-opening, and often hilarious documentary about individuals whose over-wired brains are devoted to one cinematic masterpiece: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.—Norm Schrager

5. Stacie Passon – Concussion
Stacie Passon makes a number of brave choices in her excellent debut film Concussion. First, she chooses to write a film where nearly all the characters are lesbians. Then (perhaps most strikingly) she chooses not to make the film about What It Means To Be A Lesbian, as such. Then she chooses to have her main character in every scene, and to cast a powerhouse actor, Robin Weigert, in that role. That gives her the advantage of having that powerhouse actor in her film of course, but it also means she has to step up her directing game to stand up to such a strong force. She does. Weigert’s performance is simply stunning, and so is the film. Passon has established herself as a director to keep a close eye on.-Michael Dunaway

4. Jason Osder – Let the Fire Burn
On May 13, 1985, a deadly altercation broke out in Philadelphia between police and a radical organization called MOVE, resulting in 11 deaths and the destruction of several city blocks. First-time filmmaker Jason Osder’s riveting documentary brilliantly re-creates that day entirely through live local broadcasts and a televised city hearing months later that investigated who was at fault. Let the Fire Burn is a found-footage landmark that presents a troubling commentary on race relations in America that remain distressingly unresolved. Perhaps even more impressively, though, Osder’s film doubles as a moving, engrossing courtroom thriller populated with unexpected heroes and fascinating, nuanced insights into how human beings behave in a crisis.—Tim Grierson

3. Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station
Coogler never lets the audience forget that Oscar had no idea his life was ending on that day, and Jordan gives the character an agreeable nonchalance, his worries only extending as far as finding a job and trying to put some distance between himself and his old ways. Intriguingly, Fruitvale Station argues that Oscar wasn’t really that special—he was just an average guy. And so the movie’s lack of grandness is quite appropriate: In its modest way, the film reminds us that nobody is really that special—but that we all still deserve better than what happened to Oscar.-Tim Grierson

2. Greg “Freddy” Camalier – Muscle Shoals
Freddy Camalier’s masterly Muscle Shoals is about the beginnings and heyday of the recording scene in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that improbably changed the face of rock’n’roll, putting out along the way some of the greatest records in the history of American music. Many of those moments are recounted to great effect in the film; first-timer Camalier is obviously a natural storyteller. But there’s so much more to the doc—the cinematography is lush and beautiful, the editing is crisp and precise, and it’s in turns heartbreaking, inspiring, wry, thought-provoking, nostalgic, and genuinely funny. It’s simply a stunning debut film. It helps that Camalier and his producing partner Stephen Badger are after more here than just a dry lesson in musical history. They delve into the Civil Rights Movement and its effect specifically on Alabama, especially as it relates to a Muscle Shoals music scene that was, shockingly enough, lacking in any racial tension. They return again and again to the ancient Native American legend about the river that flows through the town, and the water spirit who lived there, sang songs, and protected the town. And the personal life of Fame Records founder Rick Hall, the protagonist of the film, is itself worthy of a Faulkner novel. It’s thrilling, it’s engaging, it’s fascinating, it’s stirring. It’s the best documentary of the year, whether you’re a music lover or not.—Michael Dunaway

1. Amy Seimetz – Sun Don’t Shine
Amy Seimetz’s direction, like her acting, doesn’t announce its greatness full-throated, yelling at the top of its lungs for the audience’s acknowledgement. And the style of her directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, won’t be to everyone’s liking — a sort of Malick-esque post-mumblecore mood piece. But patient viewers will be rewarded with some of the deepest rewards of the year. The pacing of the film, which seems needlessly pensive at first, begins to draw you deeper and deeper into the story. Every sun-soaked shot seems rich with meaning. And the striking performances she coaxes from her leads, Kate Sheil and Kentucker Audley, are subtle masterpieces. Seimetz has been an actress to watch for several years now. But in 2013 she gave notice that she’s also a director to be reckoned with, for years to come.-Michael Dunaway

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