At the risk of sounding presumptuous, Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list has never mattered more than it does in a year where festivals and co-production showcases have been canceled and the film industry is hungry for any sign of where tomorrow’s talents might be hiding.
Emerging filmmakers have been pushed to the sidelines by a global pandemic — which makes it quite a privilege for Variety’s editors to have had an early look at dozens of upcoming movies in preparation for this list. (Full profiles will run in 2021.)
Each of the directors was selected on the strength of their most recent feature, some of which screened as works in progress. The overall impression is undeniably encouraging: Superhuman obstacles aside, there’s a very exciting new generation of voices waiting for their chance to shine.
Some will premiere their films at festivals in 2021, including a steamlined, streaming Sundance, while others caught the industry’s attention at fall festivals.
Pascual Sisto was on track to launch at Cannes last year, but will instead present his debut, the haunting “John and the Hole,” in the new year. Visionary commercials director Ricky Staub was set to debut “Concrete Cowboy” at Telluride, then wound up screening at Toronto instead. Netflix will release the film, which features awards-worthy work from Idris Elba, in January.
Six of this year’s directors are women, two of whom began their careers as actors. Regina King is already at the heart of the Oscar race with her period drama “One Night in Miami,” a meeting of the minds between Black icons, while Robin Wright directed and stars in “Land,” which builds on her behind-the-camera work on “House of Cards.”
Nia DaCosta followed up debut “Little Woods” with studio film “Candyman,” which is more than a mere remake of the horror classic. Original projects, like Roseanne Liang’s white-knuckle monster movie “Shadow in the Cloud,” say a lot about a director’s potential, but so too do remakes, giving viewers a chance to see what a new voice brings to a familiar project. Siân Heder’s “CODA” is an English-language retelling of a popular French hit about a family of deaf characters, which posed unique challenges for the director.
Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. went through the Sundance Labs with his script for “Wild Indian,” which draws on his Native American heritage, while Ivory Coast director Philippe Lacôte translates local storytelling customs into a stunning prison saga with his Oscar-contending “Night of the Kings.”
And when it comes to visuals guaranteed to sear themselves into your subconscious, wait’ll you get a load of British director Prano Bailey-Bond’s “Censor.” Inspired by Britain’s “video nasty” phenomenon, her psychothriller explores the kind of permanent damage that hardcore damage can inflict on the brain.
The full list of 10 Directors to Watch are:
- Prano Bailey-Bond (“Censor”)
- Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. (“Wild Indian”)
- Nia DaCosta (“Candyman”)
- Siân Heder (“CODA”)
- Regina King (“One Night in Miami”)
- Philippe Lacôte (“Night of the Kings”)
- Roseanne Liang (“Shadow in the Cloud”)
- Pascual Sisto (“John and the Hole”)
- Ricky Staub (“Concrete Cowboy”)
- Robin Wright (“Land”)
Variety’s 10 to Watch series spotlights emerging writers, actors, producers, directors, comics and cinematographers. Each of these lists is curated by a team of Variety editors, critics, and reporters. Other filmmakers chosen for this honor in the past include Chloé Zhao, Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve, Radha Blank, Marielle Heller, Anthony Chen, Justin Simien and the late Lynn Shelton.
The “10 Directors to Watch” event will take place in February in conjunction with the Palm Springs Intl. Film Society, along with the Variety Creative Impact Awards. Full profiles of the filmmakers will run in print that same month.