Sundance: 2011 Film Directors To Watch

(Sharon Swart is assisting Deadline’s Sundance coverage)

Sundance has launched new directors’ careers for decades, most famously Steven Soderbergh with his 1989 sex, lies, and videotape. In recent years, helmers including Ryan Fleck (2006’s Half Nelson) and Cary Fukunaga (2009’s Sin Nombre) broke through at the festival. This year, films from several returning Sundance directors, including Drake Doremus (Like Crazy), Jacob Aaron Estes (The Details), and Miranda July (The Future) are getting attention. Here’s a look at more under-the-radar names emerging this year:

Mike Cahill: His competition film Another Earth was just acquired by Fox Searchlight after receiving a standing ovation at Sundance’s Eccles Theatre on Monday. The minimalist sci-fi drama concerns a budding astrophysics student played by Brit Marling who accidentally kills a man’s family. “I love the idea of space and science being used as a metaphor,” Cahill said after his screening. “What I wanted to explore is, ‘What would it be like to meet yourself?’” Cahill and Marling, who met at Georgetown University, co-wrote and co-produced the film. They started with a 20-page treatment and fleshed it out in a series of meetings at co-star Mapother’s house. Cahill and Marling also co-directed Havana-set 2004 documentary Boxers and Ballerinas. And over the past several years, Cahill has worked as a field producer for National Geographic and for MTV on series such as True Life. He edited documentaries including Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. “Mike is someone who can shoot, direct, edit, and handle visual effects,” says Another Earth producer Nicholas Shumaker. “He’s not short on enthusiasm. We weren’t worried about whether he could pull off an indie film with effects. He can convince anyone of anything at any time.” Cahill is currently writing a project, again with sci-fi elements, that he’ll direct. Manager George Heller at Principato-Young signed the director about four months ago.

Paddy Considine: This British actor takes his first feature turn behind the camera with Sundance World Cinema Competition entry Tyrannosaur, a dark tale about a tormented man who goes on a spree of self-destructive behavior. The film elicited strong responses at the festival and lead Peter Mullan’s searing performance is already sparking talk that it’s awards worthy. Considine mainly worked as a thesp for top directors like Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), Jim Sheridan (In America), Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), and Ron Howard (Cinderella Man) who he says would consult with him about narrative. The busy actor also has written produced screenplays (Dead Man’s Shoes). “In my heart I knew I was a better writer-director than I was an actor. I knew I had a voice of my own and stories of my own that I needed to tell. I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable in front of the camera. Filmmaking was an absolute necessity if I was to continue a career in this medium.” He began directing with the 2007 short film Dog Altogether which won an award at the Venice film festival and a BAFTA. “Paddy has an incredible instinct for the truth, creating compelling cinematic characters and putting them up against each other in unexpected and intense situations,” says his producer Diarmid Scrimshaw, who also made Considine’s short. “He is an exceptional director who gets phenomenal performances by casting with integrity and giving his actors these incredible characters to play.” He’s repped Conor McCaughan and Sam Fox at Troika Talent agency in the U.K.

Maryam Keshavarz: This Iranian writer-director’s first feature Circumstance showed in Sundance’s U.S. competition to strong critical responses and scored a pickup deal by Participant Media. The project, about teen girls discovering Tehran’s underground scene while grappling with conservative family pressures, had a 4 1/2-year journey to the screen. Says producer Karin Chien, “Nothing was easy about making Circumstance. Maryam worked under overwhelming restrictions and at huge personal risk to tell this story. While facing down obstacles that would have crippled most directors, her commitment to her vision never wavered, not for a moment.” After graduating from Northwestern University, Keshavarz briefly went back to Iran and returned to the U.S. again for a doctoral degree. “From an early age, I have been a translator of culture: East for West, and West for East,” says the director. “Hailing from a family where my grandfather was a political poet who was often jailed in Iran, I was interested in the intersections of politics, history and artistic expression.” After 9/11, she made an experimental short titled Sanctuary, which was a surreal fantasy about an Iranian woman navigating life in New York after the disaster. It won Keshavarz the Steve Tisch Fellowship to pursue an MFA in Film Direction at NYU/Tisch. There, she directed her first feature documentary, The Color of Love, an award-winning film. In 2005, Keshevarz went to Argentina to shoot The Day I Died, about an adolescent love triangle. It won two prizes at Berlin. Keshavarz is unrepped at the moment but has been swarmed by agency interest at Sundance. (more…)

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