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The Conversation: Top 10 American Indie Filmmakers Missing in Action (Class of ’17)

The Conversation: Top 10 American Indie Filmmakers Missing in Action (Class of ’17)

Following up our last week’s offering of ten international directors who have been missing in action for the past five years or more, we take a glance at their American indie counterparts. Once again, we’re focusing on filmmakers who will be entering 2018 without any prospective projects in development (several of them have been attached to projects which have yet to leave a developmental phase). From our last year’s class of American absentees, only two from the list have concocted new projects, including William Friedkin (the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth) and Jacob Aaron Estes (currently filming Only You, starring David Oyelowo). Here’s our latest list of ten notable directors we hope will embark on new cinematic projections soon.

#10. J.P. Schaefer (Chapter 27 – 2007)

Lambasted by critics following its premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, J.P. Schaefer’s debut Chapter 27 remains his sole directorial outing. Star Jared Leto, who portrays Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon, famously gained 67 pounds to portray the killer (like many of the actor’s methods, it’s a piece of trivia which overshadows the work as a whole). Extreme negative press for cast member Lindsay Lohan, as well as publicized pans from Lennon’s son Sean Lennon only ensured the film’s doom. Over a decade later, the German born Schaefer has yet to mount another project, although he wrote an episode of the 2012 television series “The Ropes.”

#9. Amy Heckerling (Vamps – 2012)

Amy Heckerling

Often cited on lists as one of the most notable women directors from the US, Heckerling will forever remain a cult icon thanks to titles like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Clueless (1995), not to mention mainstream success with the first two Look Who’s Talking films. Unveiling only two new features during the 2000s (Loser, 2000; I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007), Heckerling’s last theatrical release united her with Alicia Silverstone in the melancholic vampire rom-com Vamps (read review), which co-starred Krysten Ritter and an enthusiastically batty Sigourney Weaver as the narcissistic bloodsucker in charge. Since then, Heckerling has been dabbling in several television series, most recently, “Red Oaks.”

#8. Victoria Mahoney (Yelling to the Sky – 2011)

Victoria Mahoney

Writer-director Victoria Mahoney’s labor of love Yelling to the Sky premiered out of the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival and was an early lead role for actress Zoe Kravitz (it was also co-star Gabourey Sidibe’s follow-up to her Oscar-nominated debut performance in Lee Daniels’ Precious). After premiering in limited theatrical release late 2012, Mahoney has been working on various television series, such as Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar” and 50 Cent’s “Power.” The actress turned writer-director has been working on her sophomore effort, Chalk, but the project is still developing.

#7. Carl Franklin (Bless Me, Ultima – 2013)

Carl Franklin

Director Carl Franklin was an exciting and pioneering 1990s contemporary of Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Ernest R. Dickerson thanks to genre classic One False Move (1992). The box office failure of the superb Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), starring Denzel Washington in an underrated performance, sent Franklin off into awards courting melodrama with the Meryl Streep weepie One True Thing (1998) and eventually high-profile studio thrillers like 2002’s High Crimes (with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd) and a reunion with Washington on the ambitious Out of Time in 2003. Franklin worked exclusively in television for the next decade, resurfacing with the period indie Bless Me, Ultima (read review) in 2013. Although he keeps busy with a variety of television series (directing episodes of everything from “House of Cards” to “The Leftovers”), we’re hoping to see Franklin get another crack at some of the material he is most revered for.

#6. Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us – 2010)

Tanya Hamilton

It was one of the best films you probably didn’t see in 2010—Tanya Hamilton’s directorial debut, Night Catches Us. Set in 1976 Philadelphia, Anthony Mackie stars as a former Black Panther who returns home following the death of his father only to be greeted with the continual political and social unrest still festering there. Kerry Washington co-stars as the wife of his slain brother. Subtle and incredibly nuanced, like many films from black directors without significant critical acclaim or awards campaigning, Hamilton’s title came and went. However, she’s contributed to a variety of significant television shows, including Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar,” “American Crime,” and “Greenleaf.” In 2018, we’ll get to see her at the helm of two episodes of “The Chi,” starring Yolonda Ross.

#5. Adrian Lyne (Unfaithful – 2002)

Adrian Lyne

Adrian Lyne has directed some of the most controversial and iconic masterpieces of 1980s American cinema, ranging from Foxes, to Flashdance, to Fatal Attraction. Genre aficionados revere him for 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder, and he led Diane Lane to an Oscar nod with his last film, 2002’s Unfaithful (a remake of the 1969 Claude Chabrol film An Unfaithful Wife). But it’s not for lack of trying that we haven’t seen Lyne in over a decade, as several high-profile projects have been announced only to fall apart. The biggest of these was probably Back Roads, a thriller announced in 2012 that was set to star Kristen Stewart. In late 2015, it was revealed Lyne would direct The Silent Wife, scripted by Billy Ray and set to star Nicole Kidman. Mum’s been the word since the 2015 AFM announcement.

#4. Jonathan Caouette (Walk Away Renee – 2011)

Jonathan Caouette

It’s hard to think of a documentarian whose debut was met with more fervor than Jonathan Caouette’s 2003 debut Tarnation, which premiered at Sundance and then headed to Cannes accompanied by sensational reviews. The director’s autobiographical portrait of living with his schizophrenic mother while coming out as gay became instant queer iconography, and received a second chapter with 2011’s Walk Away Renee.

#3. Cherien Dabis (May in the Summer – 2013)

Cherien Dabis

The Nebraska born Cherien Dabis received raves for her 2009 debut Amreeka, which centered on the dilemmas of a Palestinian Christian immigrant single mother in Indiana. Her 2013 follow-up May in the Summer premiered at Sundance to less favorable fanfare, but reunited her with the exquisite Hiam Abbass and starred Alia Shawkat. Since then, it hasn’t been radio silence for Dabis, who helmed some episodes of “Empire” and “The Sinner.” But we’re hoping to eventually hear of a new narrative feature on the horizon.

#2. Kasi Lemmons (Black Nativity – 2013)

Kasi Lemmons

Kasi Lemmons belongs to a shortlist of iconic black women directors such as Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, and Ava DuVernay. An actress from the late 80s and early 90s (you can’t miss her in supporting roles in The Silence of the Lambs and Candyman), Lemmons scored a stellar directorial debut with 1997’s Eve’s Bayou (for fans of Lynn Whitfield in “Greenleaf,” they may want to revisit her excellent performance here), and since then mounts a new project every several years or so. While 2007’s Talk to Me starring Don Cheadle was high profile but underrated, her last effort, the musical Black Nativity, which showcased Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Mary J. Blige, didn’t make too much noise. However, we’re anticipating Lemmons will continue to surprise with a filmography as inspired as it is unpredictable. In 2012, Lemmons was attached to direct an adaptation of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and more recently signed a deal with HBO to direct an adaptation of The Other Wes Moore. While production hasn’t begun on either project, we’re hoping both come to fruition.

#1. Miranda July (The Future – 2011)

Miranda July

At our number one spot is Miranda July, the Vermont born director/writer/actor/entrepreneur who scored a massive success with her 2005 debut Me and You and Everyone We Know which took home a Special Jury Prize out of Sundance and then won top prize out of Critics’ Week at Cannes as well as the Golden Camera for first feature. July, married to director Mike Mills since 2009 (a director who also takes five years or more between projects), took a six-year break before unveiling 2011 sophomore title The Future at Sundance, where it was less enthusiastically received than her previous film. She’s remained prolific in several other venues. Besides a short film in 2014, July continues to curate a feminist film project she started back in 1995 called Joanie 4 Jackie, and this past August, July helped create a collaborate charity shop in Selfridges, London, in what was described as a limited opportunity which brought together four local faith-based establishments called the Interfaith Charity Shop. Considering July will be entering her seventh-year of a hiatus from filmmaking, we’re hoping to eventually hear news of another feature.

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, TIFF and AFI. His top 3 for 2016: Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade), Elle (Paul Verhoeven) and OJ: Made in America (Ezra Edelman).

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