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Ira Sachs cinema is comprised of beautifully understated dramas about ordinary people, often featuring an element of autobiography, and engaged with real world politics. 'Vaudeville' (1992), which followed a troupe of lesbian and gay circus performers, explored political and societal issues through its perfectly crafted microcosm, while 'The Delta' (1996) focused on a young man leading two very different lives. 'Forty Shades of Blue' (2005), a love triangle featuring a young woman, her much older once-famous rock legend husband and his son, was Sachs' breakout hit, which led to his helming the 1940s-set noirish thriller 'Married Life' (2007), starring Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams and Chris Cooper. 'Keep the Lights On' (2012) is the director's most personal film to date, a semi-autobiographical account of a relationship in which one character is unable to kerb an increasingly destructive lifestyle. Further acclaim and commercial success followed with the bittersweet 'Love is Strange' (2014), about an older couple (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) forced by bigotry and economic circumstances to give up their apartment of 20 years and are briefly separated. The changing face of property and gentrification in New York plays a key role in 'Little Men', a nuanced family drama that proved to be one of the more timely films of 2016.
Born in Kentucky in 1952, photographer, painter, author, film and music video director Gus Van Sant earned a BA from the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to Hollywood. His is best known for the hugely successful 'Good Will Hunting' (1997), which was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.
Fred Schepisi was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1939. He began his production career in advertising and served as head of the film house for almost 20 years. His debut feature was the semi-autobiographical 'The Devil's Playground' (1976) won multiple awards. 'The Eye of the Storm' (2011) won the Jury Prize at the Rome International Film Festival. He was awarded the Order of Australia for his service to the Australian Film Industry.
He's one of the legends of 1970s Hollywood cinema. He grew up in a Calvinist community and saw his first film when he attended University. His passion for cinema matched his obsession with guns. A fascination with masculinity would inform his finest work, but before becoming a writer-filmmaker he was a Paulette – one of the protégées of firebrand critic Pauline Kael. Admiration for the cinema of Carl Theodore Dreyer, Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu would inform his films. He wrote 'The Yakuza', based on his brother Leonard's story and directed by Sydney Pollack. A bleak period informed 'Taxi Driver' (1976). It cemented his reputation. Further collaborations with Martin Scorsese followed: 'Raging Bull' (1980), 'The Last Temptation of Christ' (1988) and 'Bringing Out the Dead' (1999). But his personality proved too strong to remain just a writer. 'Blue Collar' (1978) is a stunning debut. 'Hardcore' (1979) felt more like an exorcism of his strict religious background. 'American Gigolo' (1980) was a key film in defining the 1980s – all shoulder pads and Armani suits – and drew heavily on Bresson's 'Pickpocket' (1959). It was also first in a trilogy of sorts, followed by 'Light Sleeper' (1992) and 'The Walker' (2007). He is at his best when he surprises: the rapturous splendour of 'Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters' (1985); the smart satire of religious comedy 'Touch' (1997); the dysfunctional biopic 'Autofocus' (2002). 'Affliction' (1997) is a stunning adaptation of Russell Bank's novel, 'Adam Resurrected' (2008) is a genuine oddity, 'The Canyons' (2013) is a mess. 'Dog Eat Dog' is as ferocious as it sounds, falling somewhere between 'Natural Born Killers' (1996) and a hardboiled crime drama.
A reputation built on a small filmography, Cate Shortland’s work is acclaimed for its sensitivity and breathtaking imagery. After a series of shorts, Shortland debuted with ‘Sommersault’, which featured a compelling breakthrough performance by Abbie Cornish. She plays Heidi, a young girl who escapes the claustrophobic confines of her hometown and embarks on a journey of personal discovery in the Australian Alps. Shortland’s poetic rendering of the landscape and account of a young woman’s finding her feet in the world were magnified in her second feature ‘Lore’. The film follows its titular heroine, the eldest daughter of a high-ranking Nazi family who at the end of the war is forced to flee with her siblings. On her journey, she come to terms with the division between her old world and the one she now struggles to fit in to. It is an original take on World War II – sympathetic to its protagonist whilst never shirking the need to show the horrors wreaked on this world by her parents’ generation. Shortland’s most recent film ‘Berlin Syndrome’ once again offers a complex female character at its heart. Teresa Palmer plays a young woman involved in an intense affair only to discover how alone she is in the world. Like all her work, ‘Berlin Syndrome’ finds Shortland balancing a strong narrative with sensual, fleeting images of rapturous beauty.
Sebastián Silva is a Chilean filmmaker, artist and musician born in Santiago in 1979. He studied filmmaking at the Film School in Chile and later moved to Montreal to study animation. His second feature, 'The Maid' (2009), won multiple awards at Sundance and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Golden Globes.
Steven Soderbergh, born in 1963, is an American film producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, and director. His work involves directing critically acclaimed commercial Hollywood films such as 'Out of Sight' (1998), 'Erin Brockovich' (2000) and the remake of 'Ocean's Eleven' (2001) and pairing this with smaller, less conventional works, such as 'Sex, Lies, and Videotape' (1989), and 'Che' (2008).
Sokurov's career has seen him lauded with festival prizes and hailed as a visionary maestro of the highest order. Born in Siberia in 1951, he attended the Moscow Institute of Cinematography where he met and befriended Andrei Tarkovsky. His films were rejected and banned by the Soviet government for a nearly ten years. With the support of the then exiled Tarkovsky, Sokurov's films were eventually granted screening permission in 1986.
Fellini's heir apparent, Paolo Sorrentino is a filmmaker whose mastery of the camera has produced images that edge towards the ecstatic. This became clear with his sophomore feature – the first to be distributed internationally – 'The Consequences of Love' (2004). Starring his on-screen alter-ego Toni Servillo, the film is a gangster drama dressed up as a character study of an elegant man living alone in a beautiful Swiss lakeside hotel. His past unlocks the mystery of who he is but his future is decided by the people he encounters on a daily basis. From it's lengthy opening shot the film is a gorgeously shot – by regular cinematographer Luca Bigazzi – and darkly humorous tale. Misanthropy is thrown into the mix for 'The Family Friend' (2006), a tale of greed and desire with a sting in its tale. With 'Il Divo' (2008), Sorrentino engages with the corruption of politics head on, telling the story of disgraced statesman Giulio Andreotti, played with vampiric glee by Servillo. (The actor is set to play Silvio Berlusconi in Sorrentino's 2018 return to the Italian political scene with 'Loro'.) 'This Must Be the Place' (2011) is the first of Sorrentino's two English language features – the other is the enjoyable but minor 'Youth' (2015). Starring Sean Penn as a Robert Smith-style rock star who is sets out to uncover his father's past, it was critically panned at the time of its release, but profits from an outsider's view of America and is at worst a curio. Sorrentino's most critically and commercially successful work on the large and small screen is 'The Great Beauty' (2013) and 'The Young Pope' (2016). The former is a rapturous paean to Rome and the director's most open homage to Fellini. 'The Young Pope', featuring a career best performance by Jude Law, is a fascinating account of life in the Vatican.
Barnaby Southcombe began his directing career in theatre with a French adaptation of Harold Pinter's 'Betrayal' at the Studio des Champs-Elysées in Paris. He then segued into music promo and commercials production in London before being brought in to revamp Channel 4's cult TV drama series, 'Teachers'. He subsequently launched MTV's first ever drama series 'Top Buzzer'. His mother is the award-winning actress Charlotte Rampling.
No contemporary filmmaker quite captures social comedy amongst the elite like Whit Stillman. Across five films, he has presented sophisticated satires that relish the behaviour of high society whilst simultaneously ridiculing it. He may have only produced one Jane Austen adaptation, but no other contemporary filmmaker embodies her spirit, no matter the setting. 'Metropolitan' (1990) came first. It was bundled up with the wave of American Indies, but was far too rarefied to fit in with any ease. It's set in the world of Manhattan debutante balls and if it felt out of time when it first appeared, the film now appears timeless. The same goes for the equally enigmatic 'Barcelona' (1994). Both films starred Chris Eigman, who was to Stillman what Martin Donovan was to Hal Hartley – an on-screen alter ego of sorts. Eigman took a lesser role in 'The Last Days of Disco' (1998), which is dominated by the perfect pairing of Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale. The pair were reunited in the recent 'Love & Friendship', based on Austen's 'Lady Susan'. Beckinsale once again played the more verbally dextrous character, the author's waspish heroine. In between came 'Damsels in Distress' (2011) starring Greta Gerwig, who couldn't have been a more suitable Stillman actor if she had been cloned for the role.
The recipient of an Oscar even before he became a household name, Oliver Stone penned the award-winning screenplay to Alan Parker’s taut 1978 thriller ‘Midnight Express’. He also wrote ‘Conan the Barbarian’, Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface’ and Michael Cimino’s ‘Year of the Dragon’. But it is for the films he directed that Stone is best-known. 1974’s ‘Seizure’ and the unintentionally hilarious ‘The Hand’ might seem at odds with his later more socially-conscious work, but they exude a delirium that many associate with an Oliver Stone film.’ Salvador’ remains one of his best – a riveting and brutal account of a photojournalist’s attempt to publicise human rights abuses in the Central American country. It has been unfairly eclipsed by the award-winning trilogy about the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath: ‘Platoon’, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ and ‘Heaven & Earth’. Stone’s dissection of America’s recent past continued with ‘The Doors’, ‘JFK’ – a film as ambitious as it is hubristic – ‘Nixon’, ‘World Trade Center’, ‘W’ and the compelling ‘Snowden’. In parallel with the more recent films, Stone has undertaken a series of documentary portraits, including Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, as well as the Howard Zinn-lite ‘The Untold History of the United States’. Stone’s targets have sometimes ended up as his films’ most ardent supporters – ‘Wall Street’ is adored by the people it excoriates (although it remains arguably his best film after ‘Salvador’), while ‘Natural Born Killers’ attempt to tackle America’s obsession with violence ends up lionizing it. Between the larger bombast, Stone has occasionally downsized. ‘Talk Radio’, ‘U-Turn’ and ‘The Savages’ are madness in a minor register and like the rest of his oeuvre they are uncompromising. You either love Oliver Stone or wish he’d stop making films.
Reading, United Kingdom born writer/director Peter Strickland's first feature film 'Katalin Varga' (2009) was made entirely independently over a four year period. It went on to win many awards including a Silver Bear in Berlin. He also founded the music-culinary group, The Sonic Catering Band in 1996, releasing several records and performing live throughout Europe.
One of the most striking British actresses, known for her androgynous, otherworldly beauty, Tilda Swinton was born in 1960 and is a Cambridge graduate. She began her career in Derek Jarman's art films, and has more recently lent her talent to the mainstream, including 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (2005),'Michael Clayton' (2007) which won her both an Oscar and a BAFTA, and 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (2011).